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Huge money advantages aided Democrat incumbent wins

Much has been made about the fact that Republican operatives, statewide officeholders, and interest groups hoped to target and knock off several Democrat incumbents with strategic infusions of money into Republican challengers’ campaigns, and none of these attempts succeeded. Yet nothing has been made about the real reason only one such race ended up with the challenger close to the incumbent – because of the vast disparity of resources in favor of the Democrats.

Any, but in many cases all, of organizations led by Republicans Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter, the state Republican Party, and organizations sympathetic to conservative policy, sent resources, in some instances totaling as much as five figures, to GOP candidates challenging incumbent Democrat state Sens. Eric LaFleur and Ben Nevers, incumbent state Rep. Gary Smith vying for an open Senate seat, and incumbent state Reps. Robert Johnson, James Armes, Bernard LeBas, Jack Montoucet, and Neil Abramson. Only Nevers faced a squeaker to win reelection, while the others won with much more breathing room.

While some observers cite these results due to the races being local in nature and thus more resistant to outside resources swaying them, or that incumbency delivers an extra resource, in reality these incumbents enjoyed significant, if not monstrous, money advantages in the final three weeks of the campaign, enabling them to outspend enormously their challengers in the most crucial segment of the contest. In the majority of instances, the advantage was overwhelming.

At the beginning of October, LaFleur had (rounded to thousands) $155,000 on hand compared to his opponent’s $14,000, Nevers had $77,000 to his opponent’s $4,000, and Smith had an incredible $477,000 while his opponent’s kitty had just a few hundred. These Democrats also had several special reports filed that showed additional thousands coming in the three-week period running up to the election while the Republican challengers had none.

House challengers did not fare much better. Johnson had $19,000 on hand while his opponent had under a thousand; Armes had $35,000 while his opponents combined had about $7,000; LeBas sat on $71,000 while his opponents together had about $10,000; Montoucet had $65,000 at his disposal while his opponent had $6,000; and Abramson’s account contained $93,000 with his opponent’s having $23,000.

Just as an example of what this could mean, in 2007 in his bid for the open seat, Armes spent around $44,000 total to defeat Jack Causey, needing a runoff to do so narrowly, with Causey spending about twice as much. This time, Causey only had about $1,000 in the bank and little spent by the start of October. And in another, Johnson in 2007 spent $197,000 to Kirby Roy’s $91,000, where Johnson also narrowly won in a runoff, but this time around Roy’s available cash for the homestretch measured in the hundreds, with two-thirds of his expenditures to that point coming from in-kind contributions (such as what the party could provide him). By contrast, Johnson, who also got many large contributions according to special reports filed up to election day, outspent Roy by a few thousand in the previous three weeks needing no in-kind contributions.

In the near future out will come the next batch of reports, showing spending through the election, and in all cases they likely will show very large asymmetries in favor of Democrats, given what was on hand at the end of the previous period. Republicans had a chance to knock off these incumbents, especially true in the cases of districts too big to walk but too small to connect them easily to national political forces, only if they could make the contests into battles of ideas and ideology. But with little money comparatively to spend to transform their races this way during the defining period of them, they had little chance to do so and these results should surprise nobody.

If the most the Republican governor, junior senator, and state party could do was give aid that constituted just a fraction of what the incumbents had available, at best they only can try to keep these Democrats honest over the next four years. Where these party elements proved most useful was in the phase months before the campaigning started, in cajoling existing Democrat legislators to switch parties or to retire, or to line up successful Republican open-seat candidates while discouraging competition to them. By the time qualification came (and a couple of the GOP challengers did not even start raising money until after then), essentially the die was cast in regards to these Democrat incumbents. Ignoring that fact misunderstands the role partisan forces played in the 2011 legislative election cycle.

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