Last week, the House passed a reapportionment plan for its chamber that Governor Jindal signed into law. Now that the dust has settled, what is the political impact of this new plan ? The exact political impact can’t be quantified until the fall elections, due to several intangibles: (1) the quality and quantity of candidates running, (2) the strength of Democratic and/or Republican turnout in fall elections, (3) the impact of other local races (sheriff, police jury, and the like) on turnout in specific precincts and/or parishes.
Nevertheless, we can make general observations, now that we know the demographics and political complexion of the new districts. Currently, Republicans have a 54-46 majority, with 4 independents and a vacant set guaranteed to go Republican in two weeks – two Republicans were the only candidates who qualified.
To assess the likelihood that a House district would elect a Republican in the fall elections, we looked at the 2010 Senate race between David Vitter and Charlie Melancon; in our opinion, this race (which Senator Vitter won handily) provided a clear delineation between conservative vs. liberal/moderate voter attitudes.
When assessing this likelihood, we examined the Vitter percentage in each House district. Based on the results, we believe that any district that gave Senator Vitter 45% of the vote or less is not likely to vote for a Republican legislative candidate (if Vitter received 25% or less, it’s extremely unlikely). Districts that gave Vitter 65% or more of the vote are almost certain to vote for a Republican candidate if given the chance. And districts that gave Vitter between 45-55% of the vote could vote Republican, given the right circumstances and/or candidate.
From the summary below, we can see that in current (i.e., pre reapportionment) House districts, Republicans have a decent shot at 63-75 House seats, which means that with the 55 seats they hold, there are still opportunities for further gains. What, if anything, changed with reapportionment?
|Before Reapportionment||After Reapportionment|
|Vitter %||GOP victory odds||Dem||Rep||Ind||TOTAL||Dem||Rep||Ind||TOTAL|
|25% or less||Very unlikely||18||1||1||20||13||0||1||14|
|More than 65%||Almost certain||6||35||1||42||7||39||1||47|
Theoretically, the “ceiling” of GOP representation remains at 75 seats (the sum of “Possible”, “Likely”, and “Almost certain”), but the count of seats likely to vote GOP has increased from 63 to 67. Seats likely to vote Democratic remain at 30 seats before and after the remapping. If you look at specific seats “before” and “after”, what we found are the following:
- The three Republican held seats (those of Speaker Jim Tucker, Nickie Monica of LaPlace, and Walker Hines of New Orleans) in the “Very Unlikely” or “Likely” category would likely gave gone Democratic, given current demographics. The Tucker and Hines seats were dissolved and moved to the Florida Parishes with a significantly more Republican complexion. The Monica seat was turned into a black district, but this move was counterbalanced by making the adjacent seat of term limited Democrat Gary Smith significantly more Republican;
- The one Independent in the “Very unlikely” category is Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge. He is black, term limited, and represents a district that was largely left alone at 73% black voter registration. This district will almost certainly select a black Democrat this fall;
- After reapportionment, there are still three Republicans whose district demographics are favorable to Democrats. While two of those seats (term limited Kay Katz of Monroe and retiring Nickie Monica of LaPlace) will likely flip, incumbent Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches should not be underestimated. In precincts with 70% or black voter registration, he received 55% of the vote in his 2007 race – highly unusual for a Republican;
- In the “swing” (i.e., “Possible”) districts, three of the four Republicans are incumbents in shaky (from a demographic standpoint) districts that were marginally strengthened. The fourth Republican seat is an open seat up in the Felicianas. The “Independent” seat is held by term limited Ernest Wooton of Belle Chasse, whose seat is a true tossup: Vitter carried the seat 46-44% (incidentally, Rep. Wooton was a candidate in that race), while Dardenne narrowly carried the district. Of the three Democrats in this category, we believe that Reed Henderson’s seat (which absorbed the territory from term limited Republican Nita Hitter’s district) may be competitive;
- Of the 67 districts we feel are safe (from a demographic perspective) now, 48 are held by Republicans, 17 are Democratic held, and two are held by Independents. Of the 48 Republican seats, four are newly created districts along the I-12 corridor that we believe should remain in Republican hands. Of the 17 Democratic seats, three are held by term limited legislators (Gary Smith of Norco, Damon Baldone of Houma, and Jean Doerge of Minden). These districts gave David Vitter at least 60% of the vote and we believe that Republicans have a good chance of picking these seats up. The remaining 14 seats (and, for that matter, the two Independent seats) are likely to go Republican as soon as there is an open seat situation, while most of those seats weren’t changed much, it’s worth noticing that the seat of freshman Democrat Taylor Barras of New Iberia saw its Vitter percentage increase from 59 to 72%, and he was given new territory in St Martin and Lafayette Parishes that gave Senator Vitter 74% of the vote – in other words, new territory that could invite a Republican challenge, since it represents 27% of the new district.
In summary, the House plan does create a more favorable demographic climate for Republican candidates to win. Furthermore, the challenge Democrats have is finding candidates with sufficient local appeal to win in districts that give an unambiguous majority to Republican candidates at the top of the ballot. This challenge gets tougher with each succeeding election cycle.