Color me skeptical that President Donald Trump is in any danger of losing in Louisiana next year, despite a new poll suggesting it may be so.
The survey, conducted by pollster Verne Kennedy in April, found that the 600 likely voters interviewed were about evenly split between liking and disliking the president’s performance. But individual polls can be outliers, and while the new survey pegged Trump’s approval at 47% with 46% disapproving, in other recent polls he easily topped 50% approval. (The Kennedy poll was taken for a group of businesspeople that includes Advocate owner John Georges).
And while an attention-getting 54% of the new poll’s respondents said they’d prefer someone else to be elected president, some of them may be pining for a different Republican. That doesn’t mean they’ll choose a Democrat, be it Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or someone else, over the president come November 2020. The smart bet is still that a majority of Louisiana voters will come around to Trump when faced with an actual choice between two candidates.
Mostly, though, I’m skeptical because in recent years Louisiana’s voting patterns have become entirely predictable when it comes to national races, and presidential contests are as national as elections get. Trump’s 58% showing in 2016 replicated Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012 and fell just a hair short of John McCain’s in 2008.
Not so gubernatorial contests, which is why I’m equally skeptical that Trump’s slump here — if that’s what it is — will impact Gov. John Bel Edwards’ fortunes this fall.
That’s partly because Trump seems to like Edwards just fine, and so far hasn’t exactly acted as if he’s bowled over by the competition. Supporters of Republican candidates Eddie Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman, and Ralph Abraham, an Alto congressman, may dream of a campaign-climaxing rally starring the president of the United States. But as recently as a month ago, Trump was still begging House Minority Whip Steve Scalise to reconsider and jump into the race.
Even more, it’s because while Louisianans tend to stick to party preferences for president, Congress and even down-ballot state and local races, they don’t necessarily do so when choosing a governor.
Edwards’ election in 2015 is the best example. Coming off the second term of Bobby Jindal, whose once-soaring popularity had dipped as low as 20%, voters had their choice of three prominent Republicans but opted for a little-known Democrat instead. This may have been unexpected, but it wasn’t entirely different from what has happened in other states, including Democratic strongholds such as Massachusetts and Maryland, which in recent years have chosen popular Republican governors.
And despite a steady stream of partisan rhetoric arguing otherwise, Edwards has largely governed from the center. He expanded Medicaid, just as his GOP opponents said they’d do. He signed tax increases to end years of cuts to higher education and health care, but only after the Republican-majority Legislature finally got around to passing them. He signed bills that had support from both parties to reduce mass imprisonment in Louisiana, and to finally give teachers a modest pay raise.
The one action he’s taken recently that may lose him votes, his decision to sign a draconian anti-abortion bill that doesn’t include exceptions for rape and incest, could eat into his support not on the right but on the left. But it also solidifies the socially conservative credentials he successfully claimed four years ago.
In fact, while Edwards has definitely not been able to do everything he wanted to do — restructuring the tax system, raising the minimum wage and addressing Louisiana’s chronic pay inequity remain on his wish list — he approaches this fall’s election pretty much where he wanted to be.
And Kennedy’s poll, the same one that portends possible trouble for Trump, backs that up. Edwards' approval rating was 52%, with just 30% disapproving. And in a horse race question, he was far ahead of both of his announced opponents.
All of which suggests that most Louisiana voters view the governor the way he strives to be seen — as stable, responsible, maybe even kind of boring.
And that places Baton Rouge about as far from Trumpworld as you can get.