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 yet to be settled. Among the other hotly contested races are 14 legislative seats — most of them in East Baton Rouge and Orleans; two Board of Elementary and Secondary Education positions — one in the Baton Rouge area; and parishwide officials in 18 parishes, including Ascension and Tangipahoa.
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 around, the rains that dampened the Oct. 24 voter turnout are 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 tried to tie Vitter to Gov. Bobby Jindal, telling voters his election would mean four more years of Jindal’s failed policies. Meanwhile, Vitter alleged that Edwards supports President Barack Obama and his policies, claiming that both 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 the promise. Holden, the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, would be Louisiana’s first black statewide official since Reconstruction if he wins. 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.
Eight of the 14 legislative seats yet to be filled are in East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes. All but two are open seats, where the incumbent is not running for re-election.
In Baton Rouge, there are two Democratic matchups and two Republican matchups for House seats. In two all-Democratic races for the state representative seats, East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member Ronnie Edwards faces Edmond Jordan in one; and Ulysses “Bones” Addison is against Barbara West Carpenter.
Two Louisiana House seats in south Baton Rouge are all-Republican runoffs. Incumbent state Rep. Darrell Ourso faces Rick Edmonds in one race; and Paula Davis is running against Metro Councilman Ryan Heck.
Voters also will pick a new president of Ascension Parish, choosing between Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa and businessman Clint Cointment.
Across the metro area, a number of local tax initiatives will be on the ballot. In East Baton Rouge, the propositions include a Plan of Government amendment on allocating tax funds among the municipalities, a number of crime prevention district taxes, two fire district tax renewals and a Baker hotel-motel tax.
Other propositions in the area include the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District tax renewal in Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes; parishwide school tax propositions in West Baton Rouge and Tangipahoa parishes; a Port Allen police tax renewal; and four tax propositions in West Feliciana Parish.
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 teacher unions. Davis is supported by LABI.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage from the State Capitol, follow Louisiana politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/