The truest thing I can say about the Nov. 16 gubernatorial runoff is something I learned decades ago from the late Jim Carvin, one of the seminal media consultants in Louisiana: “Every election is a unique event.”
Carvin wasn’t saying it’s a waste of time to look at past performances. They often are quite instructive. But, as investment brochures state in the fine print, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. So, what can we take from the Oct. 12 primary, and what should we expect between now and Nov. 16?
Let’s begin with the primary results for governor — and a comparison to previous statewide elections. I have to focus on John Bel Edwards’ performance for this part because his runoff opponent, Baton Rouge businessman and GOP mega-donor Eddie Rispone, has no electoral track record.
Edwards’ turnout effort sucked. This has to be the No. 1 takeaway for Team JBE. Statewide, voter turnout was just over 45 percent, but in vote-rich New Orleans — where Edwards got 87% of the vote (same percentage he got against David Vitter in the 2015 runoff) — voter turnout was a meager 38.5%. If he can’t get New Orleans to approximate the statewide turnout on Nov. 16 (with several hotly contested legislative runoffs and some controversial tax propositions on the city’s ballot), he won’t win.
Coincidentally, black voter turnout statewide also was 38% — sharply below the white turnout of 49.8%. That’s almost a 12-point difference. Black turnout typically trails white turnout, more so in primaries than runoffs, but not often by this much in a race for governor.
Put another way, black voters comprise 31.4% of the Louisiana electorate, but in the primary they cast only 26.4% of the total votes. Whites comprise 63.4% of the electorate, yet they cast 70.7% of the primary ballots. These figures come from Greg Rigamer, one the best number crunchers in Louisiana. (Disclosure: Rigamer and I worked on the WWL-TV election night analysis team with pollster Ron Faucheux.)
Now let’s look at the Republicans’ turnout efforts. The state GOP convinced more than 163,000 chronic white (read: conservative) voters who did not show up in the November 2015 runoff (between Edwards and David Vitter) to vote in this year’s primary. We’re talking serious Donald Trump voters. Chances are they’ll show up again on Nov. 16.
Worst of all for Edwards, he got about 21,000 fewer votes on Oct. 12 than he got in the 2015 runoff. I’ll say it again: Edwards’ turnout effort sucked.
The good news for Edwards, if there’s any to be had, is there’s lots of room for improvement in minority voter turnout. In fact, history strongly suggests that it can and will increase in the runoff as a share of overall votes cast. He also should get most of the 32,000 votes that went to the three minor candidates, considering one was a black Democrat and another was named Landrieu.
Assuming Republicans show up on Nov. 16 in numbers roughly similar (or even slightly higher) than on Oct. 12, Edwards needs to motivate an additional 50,000 — or more — minority voters to cast ballots for him just to get it close. He’ll also need to get more white votes.
Edwards improved among metro New Orleans whites, trailed among rural whites. Overall, Edwards’ percentage (but not his raw vote total) of the white vote tumbled compared to 2015, but in metro New Orleans he held or improved his share of the white vote. This is particularly true in Jefferson Parish.
In New Orleans, Edwards got 87% of the total vote on Oct. 12 — the same percentage he got in the 2015 runoff. Whites comprise 35.6% of the New Orleans electorate (and even more of the votes actually cast), which means Edwards got the vast majority of the white vote in Orleans Parish on Oct. 12.
In Jefferson Parish, Edwards got 34% parish-wide in the 2015 primary and 51% in the runoff, but this time he got 53% in the primary. Best of all, roughly 9,000 more Jefferson Parish voters turned out this time.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday he has accepted an invitation to a statewide televised debate hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting at the…
In ruby-red St. Tammany, Edwards held his white vote compared to 2015. He got 39% in the 2015 runoff and 38% on Oct. 12 — but with more votes cast this time. That’s important, because St. Tammany’s runoffs for sheriff and parish president will drive turnout on Nov. 16.
Now for the bad news: Edwards’ percentage of the white vote outside metro New Orleans tanked this year — but it’s not because whites who voted for him in 2015 turned against him in large numbers. They didn’t. Remember, he got almost the same total vote on Oct. 12 as he got in the 2015 runoff. The difference this year is that nearly 163,000 chronic white voters — who didn’t vote in the 2015 runoff — showed up this time and voted Republican.
In terms of raw numbers, Edwards appears to have held his white vote in rural parishes, but the universe of white rural voters grew back to “normal” numbers. Put another way, if those 163,000 whites had showed up in November 2015 and voted Republican, David Vitter would be governor today. (Edwards beat Vitter by 141,000 votes.)
Bottom Line: Donald Trump wasn’t president in 2015, and David Vitter isn’t Edwards’ opponent in 2019. Edwards needs to seriously boost his get out the vote efforts in New Orleans and among minority voters, and he needs to get a share of Ralph Abraham’s primary vote.
Abraham’s voters will decide the runoff. Ralph Abraham got just over 317,000 votes in the primary — after Eddie Rispone ripped him in ads and in debates. Interestingly, Edwards beat Abraham in all six congressional districts, including Abraham’s (by 2,000 votes).
Abraham immediately endorsed Rispone in his concession speech, but it remains to be seen if he’ll actively campaign for him. That could make a difference.
Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet that Abraham’s voters are more moderate, as a group, than Rispone’s. Edwards sure better hope they are — and that roughly 15% of them (around 50,000) will vote for him in the runoff. In theory that’s doable, but it’s not at all predictable. A lot will happen between now and Nov. 16.
“Trump-Trump-Trump” vs. “Jindal-Jindal-Jindal.” When it comes to messaging (other than the attacks), Edwards and Rispone will be talking past one another. Rispone’s first runoff TV ads feature Donald Trump, not Eddie Rispone. Edwards will continue to say this race is more about Washington, Louisiana (yes, it’s a town in St. Landry Parish) than Washington, D.C. — and that Rispone will put Louisiana “back in the ditch” where Jindal left Louisiana.
In broader terms, the GOP will continue trying to nationalize this race, while Edwards hopes to keep voters focused on local issues. In the past, Louisiana voters have consistently decided gubernatorial elections using a local paradigm, but that could be changing. The runoff results will tell the tale.
Debates, anyone? Edwards will push for as many debates as possible, hoping to draw a contrast between his inside knowledge of state government and the potential dangers of electing an “outsider” who could disrupt critical services and gut popular programs. As of this writing, Edwards had agreed to the first proposed debate — and Rispone was trying to negotiate terms.
Two now-familiar figures in Louisiana’s governor’s race, former Gov. Bobby Jindal and President Donald Trump, are invoked in the first televis…
Incoming! Incoming! If you think you saw a lot of “independent” political action committee attack ads in the primary, brace for impact. You’ll see a lot more between now and Nov. 16. The only sure winners will be media outlets and direct-mail print shops.
Buckle up. Early voting starts Saturday, Nov. 2.