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-off, a fluke. Well, here we are four years later.
I’m writing this column on Election Eve, so I can’t dissect Saturday’s results. I can, however, discuss a few key takeaways from this election cycle. Here they are:
Washington-style politics on the rise — Louisiana is deeply red on national matters, so it makes sense for local Republicans to try to tie state races to national GOP issues and figures — and to try to tie local Democrats to Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Recent messaging suggests that won’t change anytime soon, although races for governor historically have turned on local issues.
Term limits a big factor — Twelve years ago, legislative term limits kicked in and produced a 60% turnover. This year, lawmakers’ three-term limit is having another big impact. Term limits produced some hotly contested state House and Senate races across the metro area, but there’s a countervailing trend statewide. Of the 144 legislative contests on the ballot, 52 were settled more than a month ago when candidates won unopposed (40 in the 105-member House, 12 in the 39-member Senate).
Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 12, and this is an extremely important election for Louisiana. Voters will choose a governor, six other statewi…
GOP legislative gains — It’s a sure bet that Republicans, who already control the state House and Senate, will ultimately gain seats in both chambers once runoffs are completed. What’s not certain (as I write this) is whether they’ll have a “veto-proof” majority. That’s important because the next Legislature will draw new legislative, congressional, judicial (where required) and Public Service Commission district lines after the 2020 Census.
The Trump factor — The president is making an Election Eve appearance in Lake Charles that will be covered widely across the state. After the president tweet-stormed him, Edwards offered a gentlemanly reply but otherwise did not engage. As I mentioned above, the GOP wants to “nationalize” this election; anything Edwards might say about Trump would play into the Republicans’ strategy — and potentially cost Edwards among conservative whites. Plus, well, not everybody tweets. Will Trump make a difference? If Edwards wins outright on Saturday, the answer will clearly be “no.” If Edwards lands in a runoff, keep reading.
This hasn’t been the most thrilling election cycle — statewide, it’s been tame by Louisiana standards — but that doesn’t mean we won’t have so…
The PAC attacks — If there’s a runoff, I don’t think it’ll be because Trump swings things at the last minute. Rather, I think it’ll be because the millionaires behind several super PACs pulled out all the stops in the final two weeks of the primary campaign with some compelling attacks against Edwards — particularly those relating to his hiring of Johnny Anderson, who was forced to resign amid a sexual harassment scandal. Other millionaires behind pro-Edwards PACs have done everything they could, too, attacking the governor’s Republican rivals.
If Edwards wins in Saturday’s primary, the national media no doubt will say Trump couldn’t keep a Democratic incumbent below 50% in a state that gave him 58% in 2016. Truth is, if Edwards wins in the primary it’ll say more about Louisiana Republicans’ failure to unite behind a single top-tier candidate than about Trump — and it will prove that our gubernatorial elections still turn on local issues and not altogether on national ones.
If there’s to be a rewrite of our 1974 constitution, the real challenge will be producing a document that reflects a changed political culture and not just an updated set of protections for today’s vested interests.