Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s campaign for governor was doomed by a fractured GOP base and a methodical Democratic opponent in Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, according to an analysis of Saturday’s runoff results.
John Couvillon, of JMC Analytics, said during the Press Club of Baton Rouge lunch on Monday that Edwards’ landslide win doesn’t mean the state is becoming less conservative.
“A lot of it depends on the candidate and that, to me, is the important takeaway from this election,” he said.
Edwards defeated Vitter 56 percent to 44 percent in the governor’s race, and will become the state’s 56th governor in January.
On Sunday, Edwards named a transition team that includes Democrats and Republicans.
“Louisiana is not a ruby-red state,” Couvillon said.
But Couvillon said the stars aligned for Edwards, in particular, with him besting Vitter in conservative strongholds like Jefferson and Ascension parishes.
Couvillon said one of the most significant contributors to Vitter’s loss was the fact that Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who placed fourth and third in the Oct. 24 primary, respectively, never rallied behind him.
After a bitter primary battle that had Vitter attacking both of his Republican rivals, Dardenne crossed party lines to endorse Edwards and Angelle never publicly endorsed either candidate.
“Mathematically, he needed 80 percent of the combined vote of Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne supporters to win the runoff,” Couvillon said.
Instead, less than 60 percent of their voters ended up voting for Vitter.
“He didn’t have a united Republican vote,” he said.
Couvillon noted that one exchange during a debate in the race’s final days likely stung some conservatives. Vitter questioned whether Dardenne was a real Republican.
“That remark, to me, encapsulated David Vitter’s problems,” Couvillon said.
Couvillon said he thinks, had the primary been a week later, Angelle likely would have bested Vitter and made the runoff.
The Democratic Governors’ Association released an internal memo Sunday on what it deemed a “tremendous upset” for Vitter. It pointed to three factors that helped Edwards win: “a bruising primary that further damaged David Vitter’s favorability, an unpopular Republican incumbent governor and a strong Democratic candidate in John Bel Edwards.”
Couvillon said he also suspects incumbent Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has polled poorly as his tenure winds down, hurt Vitter’s chances, though the two are not allies and have an icy relationship.
“Voters don’t get into that fine distinction,” he said. “They don’t tend to make this association.”
Polls since the Oct. 24 primary all showed Edwards with a significant lead over Vitter heading into the runoff.
But as election day neared, some had pointed to Kentucky, where a Republican won the governor’s race this year despite trailing in polls.
Couvillon said the two situations were very different, making Louisiana’s polling data more accurate.
Not many polls were conducted in Kentucky and the Democrat never polled above 50 percent, he noted. Also: Louisiana has a much higher proportion of black voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.
Couvillon said he believes Vitter got a slight boost out of highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis late in the election, but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference.
He said Edwards benefitted from being the only major Democrat to enter the race.
Many had eyed Mary Landrieu’s defeat last fall as an indicator that the state’s next governor would be a Republican. Edwards was largely unknown when he announced his plans to run, and thus, Couvillon said he doesn’t think that it was taken seriously until late in the race.
“His slow methodical campaign, I think, gave him an insurmountable lead that I don’t think any other Democrat could compete with,” he said.
When compared with Landrieu’s results in the Senate race, Edwards got a higher percentage of the vote in 63 of the state’s 64 parishes. East Carroll was the only parish in which Landrieu outperformed Edwards.
For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog .