Louisiana legislative special elections – landslide night/tie in the Senate

Tonight, there were special elections in two legislative districts: a house race in New Orleans, and a senate race in Acadiana. Both races were settled tonight in landslides, as the victor in each case was elected with at least 60% of the vote.

House District 101

In this race in New Orleans East to fill a vacancy left by the election of (term limited) Cedric Richmond to the US House, there was little suspense as to the outcome. Attorney/SUNO administrator Wesley Bishop collected an impressive array of endorsements from Mayor Mitch Landrieu to Cedric Richmond, and just about every other elected official in Orleans Parish. He received 75% of the vote in a low turnout race that only saw an 11% voter turnout.

Senate District 22

We had originally thought this race would end up in a runoff. Instead, state representative (and recent party switcher) Fred Mills of St Martinville was elected in a 60-19% landslide over fellow Republican Simone Champagne of Jeanerette. What happened ?

(1) Since Rep. Mills was the only candidate (out of six running) from St Martin Parish, he largely had that demographic to himself. This enabled him to concentrate on driving up his numbers there – the higher St Martin Parish turnout meant that 49% of the votes cast came from that parish alone (which normally casts 42% of the vote), and in addition to the higher turnout, Mills got a near unanimous 89% of the vote there;

(2) Mills got the numbers he did in St Martin by taking 92% of the white vote, and an equally impressive 78% of the black vote;

(3) The other side of the electoral equation was Iberia Parish. Rep. Champagne needed to get a big vote from her home parish to make the runoff, but was hurt in several ways. The unified St Martin vote for Rep. Mills certainly didn’t help, but the fact that four of her opponents also came from Iberia Parish cut deeply into her base of support. While Champagne wasn’t expected to carry the black vote in Iberia Parish (she received 14% of that vote, while Rep. Mills got 24% and independent David Groner got 58%), her performance with white voters in Iberia wasn’t very strong either. She was only able to edge out Mills 36-33%, and a surprising 17% went to insurance agent (and fellow Republican) Armond Schwing;

(4) Overall, Rep. Mills’ party switch in anticipation of a state Senate run was smart politics, because, in the absence of competition from a Democratic candidate, it enabled him to be more competitive across the district, particularly with conservative voters in Iberia Parish.

(5) UPDATED 1/24/2011 – Curiously, while the overall Iberia Parish vote was roughly a tie between Champagne and Mills, Champagne carried her house district 41-28% over Mills (Groner got 20% and Schwing got 8%), while losing the other Iberia Parish house seat (anchored in New Iberia and Loreauville) to Mills 25-36%. To put her district showing in context, David Vitter carried the same precicnts 59-36%, while Jay Dardenne led 57-43%, and Jeff Landry swept these precincts 70-30%.

Bottom line

The partisan composition of the Louisiana Senate is now a 19-19 tie. A February 19 special election for another state Senate vacancy in Acadiana will test the ability of Republican candidates to win seats in politically conservative, but ancestrally Democratic, parts of the state. In this special election, state Rep Jonathan Perry faces well funded Democrat (and police juror) Nathan Granger.

The Louisiana House is now 52-48 Republican, with 4 Independents and a vacancy created by Rep. Mills’ election to the Senate. His vacant House seat in St Martin Parish will be competitive (it voted 52% for Mary Landrieu, while giving 55% of the vote to David Vitter and Jay Dardenne), and a lot depends on the timing of a special election, because the legislature will go into session in a couple months to redraw its districts in advance of the fall elections.