As the candidates for governor make their final, manic pitches to voters in the Nov. 16 runoff, a few things are already becoming clear based on early voting trends and late campaign stratagems. I’m not predicting the outcome, but it’s safe to draw two conclusions before any returns come in:
• The runoff turnout will likely be significantly higher than it was in the Oct. 12 primary.
• Louisiana’s statewide elections have become nationalized, no matter who wins the governor’s race.
How much higher the runoff turnout will be is a matter of speculation — with room for polite disagreement.
The Oct. 12 primary turnout of 1.34 million (46%) already was much higher than the 2015 primary and runoff. The runoff four years ago saw a pitched battle between then-U.S. Sen. David Vitter and now-Gov. John Bel Edwards, but it drove only 1.15 million voters (slightly more that 40%) to the polls. Most of the higher turnout this year came among white conservatives, which is good news for GOP challenger Eddie Rispone.
Early voting, which is evolving as a predictor of total turnout, is higher across the board — among Democrats and Republicans, whites and blacks. It’s particularly higher in New Orleans. In the October primary, New Orleans’ 38% turnout trailed the statewide total of 45%. A higher New Orleans turnout in the runoff is good news for Edwards.
The nationalization of our gubernatorial elections has been a goal of Louisiana Republicans for decades. It has now reached a point where it may, in a close race, tilt the balance. The reason: Donald Trump.
When John Bel Edwards upended David Vitter and the Louisiana GOP in 2015 to win the governor’s race, most Republicans chalked it up as a one-o…
Republicans historically have waged an “air campaign” in state and national elections, whereas Democrats relied more on the “ground game.” Republicans typically relied on media messaging to drive their voters to the polls, while Democrats mounted street-level efforts and (more recently) tapped into social media to spike turnout.
With Trump, the GOP has a one-man air campaign and ground game driver. But, as we saw in Kentucky recently, he can’t single-handedly put a bad candidate over the top. In fact, in a state like Louisiana, which has a much higher African-American electorate than Kentucky, Trump potentially could drive as many “anti” voters to the polls as supporters. That’s one of the things we won’t know until Election Night.
Pollster and political consultant Greg Rigamer, who is working with the Edwards campaign, says the higher level of early voting in the Nov. 16 runoff could portend a turnout that equals or exceeds the nearly 1.5 million votes cast in the 2018 mid-terms — meaning 50% or more.
“I think all the attention we’ve seen with the President coming to Louisiana twice in the final 10 days of campaigning has nationalized this election. Given all that, it would be safe to anticipate a turnout of at least 1.5 million, which we saw in the mid-terms last year. It also would not surprise me to see it go higher, perhaps to 1.6 million.”
The ballot includes races for Secretary of State, state senators and representatives, Jefferson Parish offices and propositions on short-term rentals, bonds, taxes and a charter amendment.
To that I’ll add this: Don’t be surprised to see a final outcome as close as the Kentucky governor’s race, which was decided by less than 5,000 votes. That makes every aspect of turnout critical for both candidates.