Last week, the Senate 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 22-17 majority, a majority which was created almost overnight, after four senators (John Alario, John Smith, Jody Amedee, and Norby Chabert) switched parties in the aftermath of the fall elections, and two open seat races in Acadiana were recently won by Republicans.
To assess the likelihood that a Senate 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 and liberal/moderate voter attitudes.
When assessing this likelihood, we examined the Vitter percentage in each Senate 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) Senate districts, Republicans have a decent shot at 26-29 Senate seats, which means that with the 22 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||TOTAL||Dem||Rep||TOTAL|
|25% or less||Very unlikely||5||0||5||5||0||5|
|More than 65%||Almost certain||1||13||14||0||17||17|
Theoretically, the “ceiling” of GOP representation has decreased slightly from 29 to 28 (the sum of “Possible”, “Likely”, and “Almost certain”), and the count of seats likely to vote GOP has decreased from 26 to 24. At the same time, seats likely to vote Democratic slightly increased from 10 to 11 before and after the remapping. If you look at specific seats “before” and “after”, what we found are the following:
- Unlike the House, there were very few shaky Republican seats: only John Alario’s district gave David Vitter less than 55% of the vote (it was a 51-44% Vitter district), and his district was largely unchanged;
- While there were few vulnerable Republican senate districts, there are also not many opportunities for pickups either: of the six Democratic held seats where it is possible to elect a Republican, three of these seats are term limited districts where the Vitter percentage ranges between 49 and 53% – not high enough for a Republican to feel confident about winning, since these districts (those of Senators Marionneaux, Chaisson, and Mount) are about 33% black by voter registration;
- The one term limited Democratic senate seat where the Republicans have a decent chance of victory is Butch Gautreaux’s seat in the Bayou Country – his district gave David Vitter 60% of the vote;
- The only other seats where a Republican victory is possible are held by two Democratic incumbents likely to seek (and, at this time, win) re-election: Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte) and Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) – Lafleur’s district voted 60% for Vitter, while Nevers’ seat went 65% for Vitter;
In summary, the Senate plan, unlike the House, creates a slightly more favorable demographic climate for Democratic candidates. The challenge the Republicans will have will be to recruit candidates of a sufficient caliber to be able to win those marginal seats.