East Baton Rouge Parish voters played a key role in Saturday’s election of Jay Dardenne as lieutenant governor and Tom Schedler as secretary of state, according to parish election returns.
Dardenne outpolled Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser 53 percent to 47 percent statewide. The winning margin was 59,478 votes.
In his re-election victory, Dardenne led in 46 out of 64 parishes based on complete but unofficial returns from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Dardenne came out strong in the Capital region, topping Nungesser by 28,759 votes in his home base of East Baton Rouge.
He outdistanced Nungesser in Livingston and Ascension parishes by some 11,000 votes combined. He also did well across north Louisiana.
Nungesser led in Jefferson, St. Tammany and the coastal areas, where he led efforts in the wake of hurricanes and the BP Gulf oil disaster. He won Orleans Parish by less than 1,000 votes.
Meanwhile, Schedler beat House Speaker Jim Tucker by 8,498 votes out of 890,242 cast.
Tucker carried more parishes, 39 to Schedler’s 25. But the voter margins were not enough to overcome Schedler’s strong showings in East Baton Rouge, where he led Tucker by 14,488 votes, and his home base of St. Tammany Parish by 15,709 votes.
The elections pitted Republican against Republican candidate.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., backed Nungesser and Tucker.
Vitter could not be reached on Monday. Emails and phone messages left in his U.S. Senate office in Washington D.C. and Baton Rouge seeking comment went unreturned.
Saturday was not a good day for Vitter “based on his interest in my race, the secretary of state’s and some legislative races,” Dardenne said Monday.
“There was a lot of venom, there was a lot of Vitter and we ended up with the victory,” Dardenne said.
Vitter endorsed Nungesser early on and made joint appearances with him. Vitter’s U.S. Senate campaign consulting firm was also Nungesser’s.
Dardenne had been encouraged by some to run for U.S. Senate against Vitter.
“This was clearly some payback on his part and positioning himself for his future,” Dardenne said.
Nungesser said low voter turnout in Orleans Parish hurt his election effort.
“We knew from day one it was an uphill battle,” said Nungesser who said he was back at his parish president’s office at 7 a.m. Monday.
Nungesser said he was proud that his campaign attracted people from the far right and far left politically.
“I think David’s support helped,” he said.
Schedler said Vitter contacted both himself and Dardenne to congratulate them.
Schedler said his vote in the population centers of St. Tammany and East Baton Rouge offset Tucker’s stronger showing in Orleans and Jefferson.
Tucker said it was “beneficial among conservatives and Republicans to have Sen. Vitter’s endorsement.” He said he was glad to have it.
Tucker said he was disappointed in the loss.
“The difference was the turnout in St. Tammany,” he said. He noted that turnout in the parish was higher than other parts of the state because of local contested races drawing voter attention in Schedler’s backyard.
Political analysts interviewed Monday said voters typically don’t pay much attention to endorsements.
“Most of us in Louisiana are simply independent people anyway,” said former Secretary of State Al Ater, a Democrat who has been a top aide to two Republican statewide elected officials.
“Endorsements sometimes do as much damage as they do good,” Ater said.
Vitter’s endorsement of Nungesser and Tucker could have had a detrimental effect, especially among Democrats who had no place to go, Ater said.
“It could have pulled some Democrats toward Dardenne and Schedler,” he said.
“It’s all about being kingmaker,” said Ater of Vitter’s race involvement.
LSU political scientist Robert Hogan said endorsements don’t matter much generally.
“Popularity doesn’t transfer that well,” he said.
Hogan said it would seem to have an effect when there’s a Republican vs. Republican matchup, “but obviously it didn’t work.”
Vitter is trying to influence state politics, Hogan said.
“We have a long history of that,” said Hogan, pointing to when Huey Long was a U.S. senator in Washington and “trying to run the show down here.”
“It demonstrates that he has thoughts about being governor of the state,” Hogan said. “Vitter is trying to carve out his base of support … purify the Republican Party in some way.”