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Turnout, not endorsements, key to Landry hopes

A key endorsement picked up by attorney general candidate former Rep. Jeff Landry will help, but does not establish him as the favorite in the runoff election with fellow Republican incumbent Buddy Caldwell.

Caldwell, whose chumminess with trial lawyers, related to his habit of reeling out contingency contracts for state business, and his poor choices in what cases to pursue and how made conservatives suspicious enough of the former Democrat to have the state GOP endorse Landry. The general election saw Caldwell pull only 35 percent of the vote, narrowly leading Landry’s 33 percent.

In third place came Gerri Broussard-Baloney, the officially-endorsed Democrat who drew 18 percent. Recently, she surprisingly endorsed Landry despite her long-time affiliation with the left wing of state Democrats, citing his reform agenda for the office.

While for him unexpected good news, this by itself will not push Landry’s candidacy over the goal line. Broussard-Baloney and the other black Democrat in the general election, Ike Jackson, between them garnered 29 percent, with the overwhelming proportion of that likely from black Democrats. It overreacts to believe that more than even a relatively small portion of her vote will head Landry’s way as a result of her nod to him, and probably even less of Jackson’s.

Black Democrats at the polls later this month will not have, to them, by far the most important cue in making a voting decision – partisanship, since both candidates run as Republicans. If the Landry camp can exploit her affirmation by such things as advertisements and direct mail targeted to the black community, that can generate some votes. But Caldwell and state Democrats, who surely prefer him, also can disseminate pieces favoring Caldwell, if not indirectly reminding that he once was a Democrat, in a targeted fashion.

More importantly, black politicians and other leaders can get the word out through their own organizations and networks that Caldwell is the guy. In absence of a party cue, black Democrats will give this information priority if it gets to them. If these functionaries make the effort, even if Jackson subsequently were to endorse Landry, the GOP challenger will do well to capture a quarter of the black Democrat vote.

Voting by white Democrats and some Republicans remains Landry’s biggest impediment. He’ll likely receive last-place Republican Marty Maley’s voters, but combining them and a quarter of the black vote only brings him to 44 percent under the same turnout model. Only a large surge by registered Republicans can boost him further past this mark.

And that could happen. Compared to the 2014 general elections featuring the Senate contest, the percentage of GOP registrants voting at under 46 percent was down 16 points, while black turnout at 35 percent was down 12 points and white Democrats’ at 49 percent dropped just 9 points. Keep in mind as well that historically statewide runoff elections tend to see boosts in turnout while those for Senate tend to decline, which magnifies for the former the impact of higher-turnout groups. Were the GOP totals for a runoff to reach 2014’s level of 54 percent and top the white Democrat totals by the 2014 margin of around 5 percent (that is, stays the same from the general election) and of blacks by 15 percent (that is, increases only 4 percent), Landry has a path to victory.

But it’s not as simple as thinking a good portion of Broussard-Baloney’s vote automatically migrates to Landry, as the usually incisive The Hayride seems to believe.  Even with this endorsement, only a much better turnout among Republicans, and relative to other groups, will allow Landry to knock off Caldwell.

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