Although lawyer Democrat Derrick Edwards racked up the most votes in the special election for treasurer, Republican former state Rep. John Schroder turned out the winner. Edwards, no relationship to the governor, ran a shoestring campaign but put some egg on the face of a state party that refused to back him by parlaying merely his position as the only Democrat running to capture 31 percent of the vote, with Schroder trailing at 24 percent.
But that bested both former Jindal Administration official Angéle Davis and state Sen. Neil Riser, who had 22 and 18 percent, respectively, both of the GOP. Analysis by regions in Louisiana reveal how Schroder gained the runoff, where he becomes the massive favorite to triumph and complete the term to 2019.
With the job largely technocratic and these three main contenders boasting similar issue preferences – never mind that their views on these had next to nothing to do with performing the job but which some voters may have found relevant as a way to distinguish them – the contest became about extending reach from home bases. The victor would be the one who did best holding onto that territory while poaching from others.
As it turned out, each had a natural geographical constituency that did not differentiate too much in terms of population. From outside of Monroe, Riser should have won in almost half of the state’s parishes, taking out the entire northern half of the state to south of Alexandria and near Lake Charles, although this would have the smallest number of potential voters. Davis, from Baton Rouge, could start with the Capital Region and incorporate much of the Northshore and Cajun country to the Texas border. Schroder could enjoy the most populous area by virtue of his residence in St. Tammany Parish, taking in the surrounding parishes, River Parishes, Jefferson and Orleans, and points south from those.
Schroder won that battle. Of his 15 parishes, he beat the other three in all but one – Orleans, where he trailed Riser by a handful of votes, his rival having made a major effort to win there with the help of Democrat elites abandoning Edwards. With the largest vote haul coming from Orleans, both because of population and local elections to stimulate turnout, Riser made a good choice to supplement his base, so even with just 12 percent of the vote there that pulled in over 9,000.
But consider that Schroder racked up over 15,000 in St. Tammany and beat Riser there by almost 12,000, Riser needed to hold the line elsewhere. He didn’t, losing seven of his 31 base parishes, finishing third in three of these of which in a pair Schroder won. Most damaging was Riser’s performance in the northwest corner of the state, where Schroder finished first among the GOP candidates in all of Bossier, Caddo, and De Soto Parishes, with nearly 350,000 people.
Schroder triumphed also because he pilfered from Davis. Of her 18 core parishes, she did not outdistance her GOP rivals in six, finishing behind Schroder in every one of those. She managed to grab a couple from Riser, but that could not overcome Schroder’s performance. Money may have mattered: leading up until three weeks before the election Schroder outspent Davis and Riser combined, which could make a difference in a low-interest, low-information election such as this one.
Interestingly, of the three Schroder had the most distance between himself and Jindal. As critical of Jindal’s budgeting as he was of John Bel Edwards’ prior to his resigning his House seat, Schroder neither worked for Jindal like Davis did nor had acted as a floor leader for Jindal as Riser had in the state Senate. Riser also received Jindal’s endorsement in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House in 2013.
By contrast, the runaway winner of the vacated District 2 Public Service Commission post, Dr. Craig Greene, suffered no blowback for his decision to support Edwards for governor in 2015 over conservative GOP former Sen. David Vitter. He defeated fellow Republican former state Reps. Damon Baldone and Lenar Whitney, garnering a large amount of monetary support from business interests and GOP stalwarts. In fact, in the three-week period three weeks prior to the election, he outspent his opposition combined three to one.
That lack of attention would not have seemed unusual concerning Baldone, who served in the Legislature as a Democrat, but given Whitney is the state’s committeewoman on the Republican National Committee, that would cause some head-scratching. But regulars might have shied away from Whitney due to her very doctrinaire conservatism, whereas movers and shakers in the state party when concerning state offices have a history of displacing ideology in favor of candidates who make deals favorable to their interests.
Genuine conservatives must view Greene, who said he would support a Republican gubernatorial candidate regardless in 2019, with some skepticism. To support Edwards over Vitter indicates either willful disregard for the solidly liberal agenda Edwards did not exactly hide he would pursue upon election or signals lack of information unbecoming in an elected official. He will have time now to prove his fidelity to conservatism on PSC issues.