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Edwards gubernatorial victory chance no longer trivial

Of course the big question after Louisiana’s general election is, can Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards pull the upset over Republican Sen. David Vitter for governor? The odds aren’t trivial that he can.

By getting about 40 percent of the vote last weekend, Edwards finds himself right on the periphery of making it possible. Below that, and his chances would be almost unrealistic. With Vitter getting 23 percent and his erstwhile GOP opponents combining for 34 percent, he must depend upon a fair amount of defection of voters for Republicans, about a quarter of them.

This may be quite a task concerning those Republicans who did not vote for Vitter. Of Louisiana’s 3,932 active precincts, 57 are “supermajority” Republican, defined here as having at least 60 percent registered Republicans. In those, Edwards pulled only 17 percent of the vote. Considering up to 40 percent of these precinct’s voters were not Republicans, this would imply he got few relatively Republican votes.

Therefore, he needs to concentrate on others. More precisely, we can view the 502 supermajority white precincts, defined here as those with at least 95 percent registered whites. With these, he got a fifth of the vote. There’s not much of an inflation factor here as at least 19 of 20 registrants are white, so this only overstates slightly what he received. Generally speaking, a Democrat cannot win statewide without at least 25 percent of the white vote, so he’s within shouting distance.

More specific still, in the 23 supermajority white Democrat precincts, or those with at least 60 percent white Democrat registration, Edwards drew a third of the vote. That’s not great, given two-thirds went essentially to white Republican candidates, but Vitter only got 18 percent of these precincts’ vote. Thus, half is up for grabs and they do comprise a fifth of the electorate and about 31 percent of all registered white voters. This means if Edwards can obtain half of that vote, or increasing his haul by 50 percent, he can find that needed five percent of all white voters.

So it’s possible that he could peel enough white Democrat voters disgruntled with Vitter to the point that they initially cast their ballots for Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle or Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. That alone justifies national Democratssending him some support.

One area of concern for him is that, reviewing the 190 supermajority black precincts, or those with at least 95 percent black registration, Edwards drew only 87.5 percent of their vote. For comparison sake, the most intense contest featuring a black candidate – not the lieutenant governor’s race which has close to zero policy implications – the First Judicial District Attorney’s race in Caddo Parish, black Democrat and leader going into the runoff James Stewart and the other black candidate in that race drew 93.7 percent of these precincts’ votes (in Caddo Parish, obviously). If history is any guide, few of these black votes not for Edwards will switch to him in a runoff; they either are committed to a Republican or they won’t show up. That relatively low ceiling on black support means having to boost white support a little more.

These data point the way to the campaigns going forward. Both candidates should sound populist themes, and being that’s what Edwards essentially is and that Vitter in the past masterfully has woven conservatism with populism, no doubt we’ll see plenty of that. Edwards should stick to the God and guns approach that has gotten him to this point, while Vitter must call him out on economic issues in linking him to big government and redistributionism while demonstrating Edwards does not translate well his asserted social conservatism into policy. White Democrats largely conservative on social issues but not quite as uncomfortable with wealth redistribution to their benefit as they are with the mentality behind it is the key bloc on which the campaigns should concentrate.

Both also have a chance to expand their bases on the backs of an election with a low 38.5 percent turnout. Only a third of the voters in the Republican supermajority precincts turned out, while just 27.5 percent of those in the supermajority black precincts made it to the polls. The supermajority white precincts saw over 43 percent turnout, the voters in which should remain engaged through the above campaign strategies. Of these others blocs, Vitter has a better chance to expand on his base given its demographics usually have produced much higher turnout – in the last gubernatorial runoff in 2003, over 56 percent of Republicans voted while just about 45 percent of blacks did, meaning Vitter’s core support has more opportunity to grow.

Given these numbers, Vitter is still the favorite. But Edwards’ chances have brightened considerably over the last few months, and his winning the runoff no longer seems farfetched.

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