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Campaign modes depressed LA general election turnout

The abnormally low turnout for the 2015 Louisiana state general elections seems mainly a consequence of campaign-specific factors more than for longer term, secular reasons.

Unofficially, turnout for the governor’s race only reached 38.5 percent, with lower figures for other offices and ballot items. It does barely exceed the 2011 figure by about a point, but that was a 50-point blowout resulting in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s reelection. With four strong candidates, this year’s was supposed to excite the electorate into participating at a much higher rate.

This result has led to much musing about the causes of this quiescence, not all of it informed or accurate. Contrary to one report, which claimed that vote totals in gubernatorial contests have declined every election since 1983, that’s true only insofar as general elections. Runoffs typically see higher totals, because some Louisiana voters treat the general election as if it were (which it often is mistakenly called) a primary election and aren’t motivated enough to join the fun until the runoff.


Only Caddo commissioners troubled in 2015 elections

Old stand-bys did well in northwest Louisiana’s two most populous parishes’ state and local elections – unless you were a member of the Caddo Parish Commission, signaling public revulsion against it that finally took a scalp.

Bossier Parish featured few competitive contests where establishment political forces essentially ran the table. State Rep.-elect Dodie Horton succeeded her boss, state Rep. Henry Burns who chose to run for the state Senate, easily, while chief to the present Clerk of Court Jill Sessions took that job with as little difficulty. Incumbents won the other few contested races in the parish.

In contests where the major portion of the district resided in Bossier, only Burns found himself in a runoff, with fellow Republican Ryan Gatti who had tried to present himself as the more conservative alternative to Burns in one of the most conservative Senate districts in the state – unconvincingly. Gatti appears willing as a legislator to roll back effective education reforms and of legislative candidates was one of the top recipients of campaign money from trial lawyers: tort reform looks to be a legislative priority for next year, and this support indicates Gatti would oppose reforms to improve what the American Tort Reform Association identifies as one of the worst state legal environments in the country.


Outside donor to alter Caddo sentencing policy?

Northwest Louisiana is in the midst of an interesting electoral experiment – dump a lot of national money, from just one donor, into backing a local candidate, and see if that translates into policy change that a majority of its citizens likely oppose.

The First Judicial District Attorney’s contest – which is Caddo Parish – is the office in question. With no incumbent running, as its previous holder Charles Scott died earlier this year, these kinds of races usually have an onslaught of candidates as historically, like judges, this office does not often see incumbents defeated. Win this time, and chances are good that victor keep the job as long as he likes.

Several candidates came out of the woodwork to fight for it, including former Second Circuit Courts of Appeals Judge James Stewart. That created controversy as he announced for the office prior to resigning his position, leaving it just before qualifying for office. In a subsequent lawsuit challenging that, a visiting judge ruled a matter like this properly should go before the state’s Judicial Commission, not a court, and declared the suit frivolous.


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.


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.