As the gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ballot Saturday jockey to get their voters to the polls, increasing interest has focused on the 18 parishes with hotly contested local races that are expected to drive up turnout.
Only 153 of the 1,069 races on the October primary ballot still need to be resolved in Saturday’s general election.
Eighteen parishes with parish-wide local runoffs — including presidents, sheriffs, assessors, clerks of courts — along with 18 contentious legislative seats are expected to drive voters in those localities to the polls in higher numbers.
“Those parishes will probably outperform the rest of the state because of the combination of candidates, the intensity and the money involved,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge pollster and political strategist.
The campaigns for the two gubernatorial candidates are focusing on how those local races can translate into votes in their race.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the Democratic candidate for governor from Amite, won 40 percent of the vote in the Oct. 24 primary. His performance seems to have energized Democratic Party voters who have not seen one of their own win a statewide election since 2008.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, from Metairie, slipped ahead of two other Republican candidates after a brutal primary to win a spot in the runoff with 23 percent of the vote.
Pinsonat said Edwards needs a strong showing among Louisiana’s African-American voters.
Vitter needs to attract the supporters of the two other Republican candidates in the primary and generally engage voters who participated in the 2014 U.S. Senate election that sent Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu home, he said.
Pinsonat and other analysts say that voter turn out on Saturday will go a long way to determine whether Vitter or Edwards wins.
Subsequently, both campaigns are paying particular attention to areas where strong turnouts among their likely supporters are expected.
“The greater the intensity, the higher turnout,” said John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge pollster and political strategist.
Looking at the increased numbers of ballots cast during the early voting period in the parishes with competitive races, Couvillon says, Edwards would seem to have a slight advantage.
Five of the state’s most populous parishes have elections, which could bring high levels of voters to the polls.
Three of the parishes with local races have large urban communities dominated by minority voters, which would seem to favor Democrats: East Baton Rouge, Orleans and Caddo.
Two of the parishes traditionally favor Republicans: Lafayette and St. Tammany.
Vitter’s home base is Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans and the parish with the second-most number of people (after East Baton Rouge). He led there in the October primary, with 38 percent of the vote.
But Jefferson has no parishwide election still on the ballot.
St. Tammany and Caldwell parishes have sheriffs and clerks of court elections. Part of St. Tammany Parish is voting for a new state senator — a high-profile race pitting a Democrat and a Republican.
The mostly suburban St. Tammany is a GOP stronghold and gave Vitter his best showing in the October primary with 42 percent going to the incumbent senator who has never lost a race.
“Each parish is its own individual case,” Couvillon said. “You have to know the players in the parish, what kind of get-out-the-vote effort there is or is there something organic going on.”
St. John the Baptist Parish — whose voters lean toward Democratic candidates — has the most active runoff ballot in the state, with voters being called upon to elect a parish president, a sheriff and a tax assessor. Edwards got more than 50 percent of the primary vote in St. John the Baptist parishes.
Voters will also be deciding who will be the parish leader in Ascension, Lafourche, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James and Tangipahoa — a mixed bag when it comes to party alignments.
Four other parishes have sheriffs’ elections: Beauregard, Iberia, Lafayette and Richland.
Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who came in third in the gubernatorial primary and has not endorsed either candidate in the runoff, led in Iberia and Lafayette in the primary, followed by Edwards. The Louisiana Sheriffs Association has endorsed Edwards.
Caddo has a district attorney race, in which one of the candidates will become the first nonwhite male to run the office — retired appellate court judge James E. Stewart or prosecutor Dhu Thompson. There’s also a Republican-Democrat runoff for a state Senate seat for some Caddo Parish voters.
Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes have large African-American populations.
In the primary, Caddo went 48 percent for Edwards, East Baton Rouge gave him 49 percent of the vote and Orleans came in at 72 percent for the Democrat.
In the Nov. 21 election, East Baton Rouge has four legislative runoffs — two in majority black neighborhoods with Democrat-versus-Democrat contests; and two races in majority white neighborhoods, with Republican-versus-Republican matchups.
Kip Holden, who is the African-American mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, is the Democratic candidate in a close runoff race for lieutenant governor against Republican Billy Nungesser. He could be the first African-American elected to a statewide office since Reconstruction. Holden’s candidacy should help boost African-American turnout, University of New Orleans Survey Research director Ed Chervenak said. Generally, black voters lean in large numbers toward the Democratic candidate in any given race.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a lifelong Republican who came in fourth in the October gubernatorial primary, crossed party lines to endorse Edwards after repeatedly calling Vitter “a liar.” His endorsement could give cover to GOP voters who similarly are uncomfortable with Vitter’s aggressive style.
“Given how vocal he’s been about Edwards, this has the potential of being an anti-Vitter vote,” Couvillon said. “People are more likely to listen to those statements. Jay’s been a part of the fabric of East Baton Rouge for years.”
In New Orleans, the state’s largest city, one state Senate and three House seats are up for a vote.
Chervenak said House Districts 99 and 100 are located in New Orleans East, a heavily African-American area of the city.
“If these local contests increase black turnout, that is good news for John Bel Edwards,” he said.
Edwards has also received the endorsement of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, giving him access to the get-out-the-vote apparatus in Orleans, Chervenak said.
On the statewide level, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said, “The $1 million question is, now that the field is cleaner does that improve voter turnout or does the frustration and angst hit a fever pitch?”
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage from the State Capitol, follow Louisiana politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/