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LA elections indicate incremental GOP gains

My Advocate column will return next week. In its place comes instant analysis of tonight’s state election results, followed by some more in-depth focus in this space in the upcoming week.

As expected, in the governor’s race Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards got around 40 percent. While this is better than any other statewide Democrat, it’s just on the cusp of his ability to win in the runoff. He would have to bag a quarter of the vote for the Republican candidates Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne against Republican Sen. David Vitter, who underperformed slightly at 23 percent, which is a tall ask but not impossible. Also not working in his favor is that his supporters almost certainly are less likely to vote in the runoff than those who did not vote for him.

The race could go two ways here. If Angelle and Dardenne really feel concerned about policy preferences pursued over the next four years, they don’t have to endorse Vitter but at least not work actively against him, and Vitter will win the runoff by single digits. But if they are really bitter at Vitter, it could be 1979 all over again when vanquished Democrats crossed party lines and cooperated with Republican Dave Treen to give him a narrow victory over Democrat Louis Lambert (another parallel here is that Democrat then-Gov. Edwin Edwards did not aid Lambert in the runoff; Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal will not help Vitter, nor would Vitter accept it if offered, for that matter). Only with a repeat of 1979 dynamics does Edwards have a chance.

Republicans wiped out their Democrat opponents in all of the other statewide contests. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, Treasurer John Kennedy, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain all won handily. Democrat Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden barely finished first for lieutenant governor but right behind him was former Republican Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser, barely holding off Republican Jefferson Parish Pres. John Young. Nungesser therefore likely will win the runoff handily.

And two Republicans advance to the runoff for Attorney General, the incumbent Buddy Caldwell and challenger former Rep. Jeff Landry. With Caldwell narrowly leading, he did what he had to do, make it to a runoff. Conservative Landry is not likely to pick up much of the vote from the other vanquished candidates, as two Democrats collected nearly 30 percent, so Caldwell becomes the favorite to win the runoff.

With the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education contests not having partisanship very relevant but instead views on reform and the Common Core States Standards Initiative, the results so far indicate pro-reform, pro-Common Core sentiments will continue to command a majority. The two biggest reform critics, Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill, were swept out, and they also opposed Common Core. Further, incumbents and part of the existing majority James Garvey, Kira Orange Jones, and Holly Boffy won reelection, joined by newcomer Gary Jones, who won an open seat, whose sympathies appear to lie with them. With victorious challengers Sandy Holloway and Jada Lewis, these six will control the 11-member BESE (three are appointed by the incoming governor).

That might be all they get. Appointed incumbent Mary Harris will face off against Tony Davis in District 4, but the other candidate in that race had leanings much closer to Harris’ anti-Common Core and lukewarm reform views, so she is favored to win this. In District 6, reactionary and anti-Common Core Kathy Edmonston almost won outright, so her reformer, pro-Common Core opponent Jason Engen has an almost impossible task of triumphing in the runoff, especially as over 15 percent of the vote went to candidates echoing Edmonston.

Finally, the Legislature looks headed to a status quo ante. In the Senate, only two partisan contests are headed to a runoff, and in both Republicans are favored two win, leaving the GOP with its same total of 26 seats as each party looks to have flipped a seat. In the House, the GOP has picked up two seats, with in the runoff phase an outside chance of getting another but perhaps losing another, making their most likely total for the next term starting at 60. Only three House incumbents, state Reps. Stephen Ortego, Ebony Woodruff, and Nick Lorusso, lost outright, and five others got pushed into runoffs; no incumbent senator lost or has to go to a runoff.

In partisan terms, unless Edwards pulls a big upset, Republicans look set to increase their power slightly more statewide.

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