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LA GOP ready to stamp its authority on Senate, CD 4

As a result of last week’s elections, northwest Louisianans have two opportunities to nullify the playbook authored by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards for his party to win the biggest elections in the state.

Edwards famously captured the governorship last year when he tactically navigated, by emphasizing the few areas of agreement he had with voters while downplaying the many he did not, through a field of Republicans too busy savaging each other to expose him on those issues. This sent a gravely wounded Republican through to the runoff phase with him, where Edwards triumphed.

This year, only two general federal election contests resulted in a Democrat making the runoff. For Senate, northwest Louisiana’s Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell with 17 percent of the vote squeaked into a runoff with Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy, who pulled in 25 percent. For House District 4, area lawyer and the lone Democrat Marshall Jones with 28 percent edged out Bossier City Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson by three points.

One of my Advocate colleagues reported on the Senate race that “Foster Campbell has no chance of winning next month’s U.S. Senate runoff unless he unifies the fractured state Democratic Party.” He would have come closer to the truth had he just put a period after “runoff” and left it at that, especially as the liberal populist Campbell drew the candidate against which he matches up the most poorly, the major Republican in the contest that made the most conservative populist appeals.

In that contest, Democrats took home a little over a third of the vote while Republicans grabbed three-fifths. Worse for Campbell, typically in Louisiana December runoffs Republican identifiers disproportionately turn out to vote, especially when occurring during a presidential election year. While a Senate race never has seen a December runoff in a presidential election year, in Dec., 2014 in a midterm year GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy collected proportionately slightly more votes than Republicans did in the general election to defeat former Sen. Mary Landrieu, as over 200,000 fewer people participated.

And to dampen Campbell’s chances further, national forces will reduce incentives for Democrats to turn out yet will increase these for Republicans. With the GOP assured of control of all three branches of the federal government in 2017, Republicans eagerly will wish to spike the ball in the end zone with a vote for Kennedy while dispirited Democrats will want to forget and thus will ignore the whole spectacle (except perhaps in Baton Rouge where a competitive runoff for mayor-president will occur).

But at least Campbell’s microscopic chances well exceed those of Jones’ as he takes on Johnson. The Republican, well known among evangelicals and social conservatives for his advocacy on behalf of traditional values both in court and in the Legislature, outdistanced his Republican competitors precisely because of his energetic base. Few will not make a return trip to the polls for him next month.

In the end, physician Republican Dr. Trey Baucum’s strategy of running as a conservative outsider did not work because many already view Johnson that way even as an elected official. Nor could Shreveport City Councilman Oliver Jenkins gain enough traction as the more moderate GOP candidate in a year where positioning oneself as a business-oriented, Main Street candidate probably hurt more than helped. And former state Sen. Elbert Guillory could not overcome geographical disadvantage (as the only candidate not from the population center of the district, Caddo-Bossier) or a late start to his campaigning.

Johnson can expect to collect a bare minimum of four-fifths of Baucum’s and Guillory’s vote plus at least half of Jenkins’. That already puts him well over halfway, not factoring in the same dynamics in play as with the Senate contest: Republicans will want to celebrate in the end zone by voting for him in December while some Democrats will not want to bother; and, in the Dec., 2008 contest that outgoing GOP Rep. John Fleming narrowly won, Democrat votes plunged 40 percent from the previous month while Republican votes increased almost 20 percent.

Edwards obtained 40 percent of the vote in Oct., 2015, and with a quarter of Republican voters defecting to his camp that November, he won easily. But with all Democrat votes at 36 percent in the Senate contest and 29 percent in the Fourth District race and the turnout dynamics in favor of the Republicans, Campbell will be fortunate to reach 45 percent of the vote and Jones 40 percent.

If things finish this way, this also will finish any dreams Louisiana Democrats have that Edwards’ triumph was anything but a one-off affair.

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