Abortion Louisiana (copy)

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, seen here in a 2015 file photo, said he believes the state's Republicans need to get behind a single candidate to defeat Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, in next year's election.

Does John Bel Edwards deserve to be re-elected?

The governor certainly is running for re-election and has raised hefty sums for the 2019 campaign. Edwards is certainly taking nothing for granted and continues to work the state with public appearances and occasional wordy jousts with potential opponents.

According to pollster John Couvillon, respondents to one of his recent statewide surveys found that by a margin of 43-37, Edwards "deserves" to be re-elected.

Many pollsters ask questions about job performance, phrasing the question as "approve of" or "will/will not vote to re-elect." But Couvillon told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that he prefers "deserve," to get right to the chase. He also surveys those more likely to vote rather than registered voters. In Louisiana, more regular voters tend to be whiter and more conservative than the mass of registrants.

It's a fair point. I served in the administration of David C. Treen, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, who was popular according to the approval question — but was thumpingly defeated for re-election by a more popular Edwin W. Edwards amid an economic slump. So approval certainly isn't the same thing as re-election.

For Couvillon, who typically polls for Republican politicians, the problem for Edwards is an obvious one: the deteriorating position of Democrats in the state. The governorship is the lone statewide position not in the hands of the GOP.

"I think the governor is going to have a challenging re-election," Couvillon said.

Fewer white voters are identifying as Democrats and in Louisiana, as nationally, voters tend to be more party-oriented — making Edwards an obvious target for the GOP. In recent years, there were 47,000 fewer Democrats as registered, but 59,000 fewer white Democrats, meaning that the Democratic base was evermore provided by African-American registrants.

Couvillon said he believes the long wrangle in the Legislature over taxes and budgets during the last 18 months has dented the approval of a governor who won with 56 percent of the vote in the 2015 runoff. In Couvillon's polling, the governor lost some support among Republicans although not as much in Baton Rouge; among independent voters, the legislative battles might have hurt both sides.

Perhaps, with so many employed in state government and colleges needing state support, self-interest trumps party polarization in the capital region.

At the same time, Couvillon noted that the governor seeks a second term with an improving economy statewide, something that should help an incumbent. Still, he said, "56 percent in 2019 is hard to imagine."

Perhaps so, but the Republican brand — now a working majority in the state, although later than in other parts of the South — is hardly monolithic. During the budget debates at the State Capitol, Edwards had considerable support from the Republican-majority senators as well as some in the state House, where the official leadership was anti-Edwards.

In 2015, the GOP was certainly divided in the runoff, with the other major candidates in the primary either backing Edwards or staying mum about the choice between the Democrat and then-U. S. Sen. David Vitter.

Couvillon noted that in 2016 there were other Republican candidates for U.S. senator, to fill the vacancy of the retiring Vitter, but that GOP candidates and voters rallied behind the eventual winner, John N. Kennedy. A senator's job is naturally more focused on national issues, though, and a Trump landslide — as it was in Louisiana if not nationally — will not be the environment for the GOP challengers in 2019.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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