Months of campaigning come down to Saturday as voters across the state go to the polls to decide who will lead Louisiana government through the turbulent financial times ahead.
The race for governor between Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter tops the ballot, but voters also will decide who will be lieutenant governor and attorney general.
The three statewide offices are among 153 races to be settled. Among the other hotly contested races are 14 legislative seats — most of them in East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes; two Board of Elementary and Secondary Education positions — one in the Baton Rouge area; and parishwide officials in 18 parishes, including Lafayette and Iberia.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
“It’s an important election for the state’s future,” Secretary of State Tom Schedler said, noting the outsized fiscal crisis the new governor will face.
Going into the runoff, polls are showing far fewer voters are undecided. “It’s half or less of this time a month ago,” Schedler said.
This time, bad weather that dampened Oct. 24 voter turnout is not in the forecast.
Schedler predicts 40 percent to 42 percent of the state’s 2.89 million voters will go to the polls — a little more than the 39 percent a month ago. “I hope I’m proved wrong. I would love to see 60 percent,” he said.
The number of people voting early increased by 16 percent from the primary, but Schedler attributed some of that to the election falling on the opening day of hunting season and the start of Thanksgiving holiday travels. More than 257,000 people voted in advance of Saturday’s election. Eleven percent of them did not vote in the October election.
The high-profile governor’s race has dominated the election cycle, with Edwards, a state representative from Amite, and Vitter, a U.S. senator from Metairie, getting increasingly nasty in attacks on each other.
Edwards attempted to tie Vitter to Gov. Bobby Jindal by telling voters that Vitter’s election would mean four more years of Jindal’s failed policies. Meanwhile, Vitter alleged that Edwards supports President Barack Obama and his policies that are bad for Louisiana and its residents.
Each campaign and super PACs that support or oppose them has spent millions in a governor’s race that’s on its way to setting a new expenditure record.
By contrast, the lieutenant governor’s runoff has been a low-key affair. Democratic candidate Kip Holden and Republican Billy Nungesser agreed early to run positive campaigns and stuck to that promise. Holden, the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, would be Louisiana’s first black statewide official since Reconstruction if he wins the election. Nungesser, a former two-term president of Plaquemines Parish, ran unsuccessfully for the No. 2 job in state government four years ago. Each tells voters their experience will serve them well as the state’s tourism ambassador.
Incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell faces a strong challenge by fellow Republican Jeff Landry, a former U.S. congressman.
Caldwell, of Tallulah, was a district attorney for three decades before his election as the state’s chief legal officer.
Landry, of New Iberia, is trying to prevent Caldwell from gaining a third term.
Landry alleges Caldwell is not as conservative as he pretends to be and rewards his political backers with state legal contracts. Caldwell claims Landry lacks courtroom experience and is a puppet of special interests. The sparring has largely occurred via campaign ads. Each promotes high-profile backers.
In Lafayette Parish, voters will choose a new sheriff, three City-Parish Council members and a new state representative, and will vote on a school tax renewal and two amendments to the constitutionlike city-parish charter.
Attorney Mark Garber faces Scott Police Chief Chad Leger in a contest to replace longtime Sheriff Mike Neustrom, who decided not to seek re-election.
Three of the nine seats on the Lafayette City-Parish Council are still up for grabs Saturday.
Incumbent Brandon Shelvin is defending his District 3 seat from challenger Patrick “Pat” Lewis, and incumbent District 6 Councilman Andy Naquin faces Bruce Conque, who once held the seat.
First-time candidates Gerald Judice and Elizabeth Webb Hebert are vying to replace District 8 Councilman Keith Patin, who is not seeking a third term.
In House District 45, Jean-Paul Coussan and André Comeaux face off after emerging from a three-candidate primary last month.
Lafayette Parish voters also will weigh in on two proposed amendments to the city-parish charter, one to change the title of the top executive from “president” to “mayor-president” and the other to expand membership of the Planning and Zoning Commission from five to seven members.
Also on the ballot is the renewal of a millage to support operations of the Lafayette Parish school system. The 7.27 mills generate about $14 million annually for the system. The existing millage has been on the rolls for more than 40 years.
The two BESE races feature candidates with sharp differences.
In the District 6 battle to succeed BESE President Chas Roemer, Kathy Edmonston, of Gonzales, faces Jason Engen, of Baton Rouge.
Edmonston, a veteran education official in Ascension Parish, is supported by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators.
Engen, a businessman, is backed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
In northwest Louisiana, BESE member Mary Harris faces a challenge from Tony Davis in District 4.
Harris is the principal of an elementary school in Shreveport. Davis is president of the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce.
Harris is backed by teachers unions. Davis is supported by LABI.