The runoff to decide the next secretary of state will be between a Republican who spent about a quarter of a million dollars and a Democrat who raised less than a thousand.
Democratic candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup, a lawyer from Clinton, and interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican from Baton Rouge, will meet for a Dec. 8 runoff after an abbreviated and somewhat lackluster race to fill out the final year of the term of longtime Secretary of State Tom Schedler. He abruptly resigned in May after being accused of sexually harassing an employee.
Ardoin has run once, unsuccessfully, for the state Legislature. And Collins-Greenup's sole foray into elective politics was a failed attempt to become the East Feliciana Parish clerk of court.
As Schedler’s nuts-and-bolts administrator for the past eight years, Ardoin took over in May after his boss resigned. Though Ardoin promised not to run for the office, he decided otherwise in July, saying the other candidates would need on-the-job training while he could step in seamlessly.
Collins-Greenup has 20 years of experience in government, small business and courts administration. She’s been an elections commissioner. She said she wants the Secretary of State’s Office to engage more with voters and young people to build up more participation in elections.
Ardoin said Louisiana has broken voter turnout records for presidential balloting with about 69 percent voting in the past two elections. Collins-Greenup has noted that lower interest elections bring about 15 percent of the voters to polls.
With all the precincts counted, the unofficial tally gave Ardoin 21 percent, or 298,637 votes. Collins-Greenup followed with 9,584 fewer votes, polling 20 percent of the total.
About 48.7 percent — or 1.46 million of the state’s 2.99 million voters — participated in Tuesday’s election. That’s far more than even the most optimistic predictions. Forty percent of registered voters participated in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff between John Bel Edwards and David Vitter.
Louisiana appears to have benefited from what nationally was seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump. Though the outcomes for Louisiana incumbent congressmen were not in doubt, Democrats were poised to retake the majority in the U.S. House and perhaps the Senate. Long lines and record-breaking early voting turnouts have been reported across the country along with a steady stream of often dark political rhetoric aimed at energizing bases to go to the polls.
Whoever becomes Louisiana's Secretary of State in December will serve the next year, oversee the 2019 gubernatorial election, handle increased security demands and purchase 10,000 new voting machines — all while running for a full four-year term.
In addition to putting on the state’s elections, the secretary of state archives the state’s records, administers a handful of museums, including the Old State Capitol, certifies new businesses and holds the state seal that officially turns successful legislation into law.
Ardoin raised about a quarter of a million dollars to run and spent a considerable portion of that money during the past few weeks on television advertising during newscasts and sporting events. Collins-Greenup raised about $600 and received about $1,000 in-kind contributions from family members.
“I don’t know how to explain that. I had a lot more competition on the Republican side,” Ardoin said Tuesday night. “It was a tough campaign and we had a lot of good opponents.”
Collins-Greenup did not respond to calls and texts to her cellphone Tuesday night.
Nine candidates were in the field. Six are Republicans, including Ardoin, state Rep. Julie Stokes, of Kenner; Rep. Rick Edmonds, of Baton Rouge; former Sen. A.G. Crowe; of Pearl River; Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud; and Metairie attorney Thomas J. Kennedy III. The two Democrats are Collins-Greenup and Renée Fontenot Free, of Baton Rouge. One candidate ran without party affiliation, Matt Moreau, of Zachary.
The campaign largely took place in smaller venues, with the candidates speaking at forums and club luncheons across the state.
Free came in third with 16 percent of the vote. A former top assistant to two secretaries of state, she had stepped aside from her job as assistant attorney general to run and was backed by unions and local Democratic organizations.
Edmonds polled fourth at 11 percent, edging out Stokes, who had raised more than a half-million dollars in the race.
Usual thinking is that the “D” behind a Democratic candidate’s name can bring in about 30 percent of a statewide vote, which is typically enough to score a place in the runoff when several Republicans pile onto the same ballot.
But in a red state that solidly supports Trump, the GOP candidate in the runoff usually wins.