It's not exactly breaking news that Gov. John Bel Edwards' 2105 election didn't usher in a Democratic wave in Louisiana.
State Democrats may be heartened by big gains in once-conservative Virginia and by the dramatic victory by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama. But Virginia's been shifting left for years, and as the Advocate's Tyler Bridges laid out in Sunday's paper, Edwards' win over David Vitter, like Jones' defeat of the epically controversial Roy Moore, sure looks like a one-off.
But if Edwards isn't part of a leftward trend in Louisiana, he does fit neatly into a different, national pattern. Across the country, some of most popular and best-regarded governors do not share a party preference with the majority of their voters. And some of the least successful, and most reviled, do.
Louisiana is a case in point. In a vacuum, the clear majority of voters here prefer Republican candidates to Democrats, even though voter registration figures reflect the state's historic Democratic roots as much as the current electoral reality.
But two years into his first term, Edwards' approval rating clocked in as high as 65 percent in a recent Southern Media & Opinion Research Poll, which marked him as more popular than any of the Republicans who hold high positions in the state. Edwards' Republican predecessor Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, saw his once-enviable poll ratings sink as low as 20 percent toward the end of his eight-year tenure.
In fact, for a while, the least popular governors in the whole country were Jindal and Sam Brownback of Kansas, two Republicans who ran lopsidedly Republican states and who put their government-starving principles into practice. Turned out that voters liked the talk more than they liked the action.
In Kansas, Brownback launched a supply-side revolution that he promised would deliver a "shot of adrenaline" to the state's economy. That didn't happen. What did happen was that revenue tanked, and the state had to issue steep cuts to priorities such as schools and infrastructure. In 2017, the Republican-controlled Legislature did something shocking: It overrode a Brownback veto and reinstituted some of the taxes he'd cut.
When Jindal, who rejected anything that could possibly be cast as a tax increase, resorted to trust fund raids and budgetary gimmicks and left behind a massive shortfall, part of the reaction was Edwards' win itself. A number of things played into Edwards' decisive victory over then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter, but one likely factor was that Vitter was as much of a conservative ideologue as Jindal was, and that voters were looking to move back toward the fiscal center. That's also one likely reason behind Edwards' resilient poll numbers, even as he's tried to climb out of the fiscal hole he inherited from Jindal by raising taxes.
The pattern works both ways. Among the nation's most consistently popular governors, according to polls, are two Republicans who lead reliably Democratic states — Massachusetts' Charlie Baker and Maryland's Larry Hogan.
The bottom line is that, unlike members of Congress and party activists, successful governors are pragmatists. They have their own political philosophies, but also recognize that most of their constituents want basic government programs to work.
One area where this has played out other than fiscal policy is health care. Some of the most reasonable proposals to fix the Affordable Care Act without ending it, as Republicans in Congress spent much of last year trying to do, came from a bipartisan coalition of governors led by Ohio Republican John Kasich and Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper. Edwards has been a charter member of this group.
He's also made a point of staying out of the constant back-and-forth over President Donald Trump's behavior and fitness for office, and has instead sought to work with the White House on infrastructure, criminal justice and other areas.
None of any of this is likely to help grow the Democratic footprint in Louisiana, which is a tall order indeed.
On the other hand, it might well be enough to get Edwards reelected.