My Baton Rouge Advocate colleague Mark Ballard recently mused about whether Republican former state Rep. John Schroder possibly could lose the Nov. 18 special election for treasurer. While he finished runner-up to lawyer Democrat Derrick Edwards, trailing Edwards’ 31 percent by 7 points, other GOP candidates drew the remaining votes in this race. Schroder spent about 100 times what Edwards did and may do so again in the runoff; he remains a heavy favorite.
Ballard did his best to come up with a scenario that gave Edwards, who received votes merely as the only Democrat on the ballot, the victory. He figured that if statewide turnout could dip by almost half but Orleans Parish saw an increase by one third – stimulated by a mayoral runoff election – if the proportions voting for Edwards stayed the same, then it would be neck-and-neck.
Uh, no. Typically, runoffs in draw a bit more in turnout than the general elections, although the last instance of a special election’s result got contaminated by the runoff also having the general election for senate on the ballot. Then, in 2010, it almost doubled. Even with far fewer local elections joining the treasurer’s contest, turnout statewide will not plunge over 40 percent, if it falls at all.
Nor will Orleans Parish contests excite turnout there to nearly 45 percent. A runoff for mayor there hasn’t happened under normal electoral conditions since 2002, but then turnout actually dropped slightly between the contests. These elections, general or runoff, for decades haven’t even reached 40 percent.
Ballard does note that, as turnout declines, white Republicans become disproportionately likely to show up at the polls. The trend strengthens when propositions pepper a local ballot, as fiscal conservatives voting against such items represent the most chronic of voters. These factors work against any significant decline in state turnout and in a way that favors Schroder.
Finally, in Schroder’s home parish of St. Tammany, a very competitive race in part of the parish for state representative, between two conservatives, will help mobilize support for Schroder exactly in his area of strength. In the general election, there Republicans drew 83 percent of the vote with about two-fifths the number present in Orleans, so that will create an effective firewall for him.
Ballard raises the possibility that a more formidable candidate with official Democrat support – the state party avoided Edwards until he made the runoff, from a mixture of doubt whether he could make the runoff and the party would lose even more its ever-diminishing prestige and that he does not toe the pro-government expansion party line – could have raised this lightning-strike probability, but this makes for a far reach as well. Even hoping Orleans voters turn out at 40 percent while statewide voters stay away to the tune of 10 percent still makes for a tall order, so a candidate base in the election of 35 percent still falls short.
The only thing keeping Schroder from clearing 60 percent – and his campaign says all the right things about wariness regarding his opponent’s chances – will be Schroder himself, either through a singularly inept campaign that to date has operated well or stupid scandalous behavior. Don’t count on these happening.