Louisiana Democrats cheered Gov. John Bel Edwards as he made the case for why he deserves re-election this year, at the party’s annual fundraising dinner in New Orleans on Saturday night.
“Four more years!” the crowd chanted after Edwards spoke at the Hilton Riverside Hotel.
But the governor faces a tougher road to winning another four years because the Democratic Party’s standing in Louisiana has continued to erode during his tenure. Compared to when Edwards took office in January 2016, Louisiana has substantially more registered Republicans and fewer Democrats, and Democrats hold fewer seats in the state House as a result of special elections.
Edwards is the only Democrat who holds statewide office in Louisiana. The lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, the treasurer, the insurance commissioner and the agriculture commissioner are all Republicans. Republicans also hold solid majorities in the state House and Senate.
Since January 2016, Democrats have lost 6% of their registered voters, from 1,331,636 to 1,261,493, a drop of 70,143.
Over that same period, Republicans have gained 10% more registered voters, from 821,886 to 913,596, an increase of 91,710.
The number of political independents has increased by 3%, from 756,654 to 781,117, a gain of 24,553.
The registration numbers illustrate how many registered Democrats in the state vote Republican, although that’s changing. In January 2016, 46% of Louisiana voters were registered as Democrats, 28% were Republicans and 26% were independents.
Today, the Democratic advantage has shrunk to where 43% percent of voters are Democrats, 31% are Republicans and 26% are independents.
The loss of white Democrats — who formed the bedrock of the party during its long dominance of Louisiana politics — has been especially notable over the past 42 months.
There are 16% fewer white Democrats today than when Edwards took office — 501,160 today compared to 580,653 in January 2016.
Black Democrats and Republicans now hold the reins at City Hall in Louisiana’s biggest cities. Sulphur, the state’s 16th biggest city, is the largest one governed by a white Democratic mayor, Mike Danahay, according to John Couvillon, a pollster and demographer.
In January 2016, black voters accounted for 53% of registered Democrats, whites 44% and others 3%.
In June 2019, blacks account for 57% of Democrats, whites 40% and others 3%.
The shifting numbers reflect decades-long trends in the Deep South, where faith in the Democratic Party once ran so deep that white voters boasted of being “yellow dog Democrats,” who would vote for a yellow dog over a Republican. But the party of Lincoln now reigns supreme. Edwards is the only Democratic governor of a Deep South state.
“If you have a party that is becoming more and more majority-black, the Democratic Party is becoming less representative of the Louisiana electorate as a whole,” Couvillon said.
The Republican Party is nearly all-white, but that’s less of an issue for Republicans because whites outnumber blacks by 62% to 32% in Louisiana.
Couvillon said white Democrats are likely to continue to shrink in Louisiana because of demographics. The average age of a voter in Louisiana is 49.4 years, he said, but the average white Democrat is 59.
“More of them (white Democrats) are being lost than are being replaced by younger white voters,” Couvillon said. “You have an age group that keeps getting older and older.”
Karen Carter Peterson, the Democratic Party chairwoman since 2012 and a state senator from New Orleans, did not respond Sunday to messages seeking comment.
The Democrats have also lost three seats in the Legislature since Edwards took office.
In January 2016, the breakdown in the House was 61 Republicans, 42 Democrats and two independents. The breakdown today: 61 Republicans, 39 Democrats and five independents.
The breakdown in the Senate has remained unchanged since January 2016: 25 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
Big Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama in the fall prompted the leader of the Louisiana Democratic Party to proclaim this month, “We…
Democrats naturally kept it upbeat Saturday night. Beginning with Helena Moreno, the New Orleans City Council president, through Edwards, the speakers highlighted the Democratic Party’s traditional focus on working families, the poor and public education.
“On my very first day as governor, I expanded Medicaid,” Edwards told the crowd. “465,000 people have Medicaid because of that. … I will never regret giving health care to working people.”
Edwards said he signed 10 bills into law that have ended Louisiana’s notorious status as the nation’s incarceration capital, with more people locked up than any other state, on a per capita basis. The Legislature passed those bills with bipartisan support.
The governor also noted that during his tenure the state’s unemployment rate has been halved, the state budget went from a deficit to a surplus and teachers are receiving a $1,000 pay raise in the coming year.
If re-elected, Edwards said, he would continue to ask the Legislature to increase the state minimum wage and to take steps to reduce the gender pay gap.
Edwards’ two Republican challengers are U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from northeast Louisiana and electrical contractor Eddie Rispone from Baton Rouge.
One word that went unmentioned Saturday night: abortion.
Edwards enraged liberal activists — particularly women — by signing into law a bill that would ban abortion starting only six weeks after conception and allow no exceptions for victims of incest or rape. The legislative sponsor was state Sen. John Milkovich, a Democrat from Keithville, which is south of Shreveport. Milkovich did not attend Saturday night’s event.
Peterson, the party's chairwoman, has attacked Edwards repeatedly over the issue, although not by name.
"Embarrassing!” she tweeted on May 30 after Edwards signed the bill. “Apologies to LA women, particularly for the disrespect to women victimized by rape or incest."
State Sen. Troy Carter from New Orleans was apparently alluding to the intra-party dispute when he told the crowd, “We are not divided. We are united. … We will fight within the ranks, as families do.”
This story has been corrected to reflect the current party breakdown in the state House.