October 2011 Election Preview (Part 2 of 2)

In our previous analysis, we assessed the statewide races and discussed projected voter turnout. In this article, we will discuss what to look for on Election Night, and we will briefly touch on some legislative races.

Clues will be provided early on as to how strongly Governor Jindal will perform when the early vote totals are released (for those who are not used to looking at election returns on the Secretary of State’s site, the early vote for an entire parish is reported as its own “precinct”) In 2007, while Jindal received 54% of the statewide vote, the early voters (who were 11% of the total vote that year) gave him 63% of the vote. Therefore, this 63% figure is a benchmark that can be used to measure how much his 2011 percentage has improved over 2007. Here’s how the early vote went in the larger parishes (as you can see, Republicans did a good job of getting their supporters to vote early in the larger parishes):

What makes this year interesting is our belief that the early vote will represent 15-20% (or in some parishes, an even greater percentage) of the final vote, so you’ll have a good early indication of the outcome in some areas before precinct returns come in.

Ascension        67%
Bossier                 73%
Caddo                   67%
Calcasieu               69%
East Baton Rouge        70%
Jefferson               79%
Lafayette               72%
Lafourche               68%
Livingston              71%
Orleans                 44%
Ouachita                63%
Rapides                 67%
St Landry               56%
St Tammany              82%
Tangipahoa              66%
Terrebonne              73%

Louisiana Senate

There are currently 22 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the Louisiana Senate. The Republicans are guaranteed a majority before a single vote is cast, as 15 of the Republicans are unopposed, and in 7 more Republican held districts, there are Republican on Republican races. Only in the seat held by John Smith (R-Leesville) do you have a Democrat contesting a Republican held seat, but Smith’s main opponent is another Republican: former senator James David Cain. Furthermore, Republicans have already picked up two seats: (1) the term limited seat of Willie Mount (D-Lake Charles) – former state representative Ronnie Johns (R-Sulphur) filed without opposition, and (2) the seat of term limited senator “Butch” Gautreaux (D-Morgan City), where two Republicans are running.

Even with this assured majority, Republicans are on the offensive, as they are targeting two term senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), whose 66-28% Vitter district to the north and east of Hammond is not secure Democratic territory. Also in the GOP’s sights is Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte), whose district between Alexandria and Opelousas voted 59-33% for David Vitter. Finally, Republican newcomer Garrett Monti (R-Luling) is challenging Democratic state representative Gary Smith (D-Norco) for the term limited seat held by Joel Chaisson II (D-Destrehan). This district is less heavily Republican: it voted 54-41% for David Vitter. Republican victories in any combination of these three seats would certainly be a sign of success for the Louisiana GOP. There are also two black majority districts where the racial split is close enough to 50/50 that stronger white turnout could lift Republican candidates to victory: the newly created district in the River Parishes (four Democrats and two Republicans are running), and a redrawn district stretching from Alexandria to Ruston where a Republican faces two black Democrats.

Senate contests also have two additional subplots: (1) Republican/conservative groups are targeting Republicans they believe are not sufficiently favorable to their agenda, like Dale Erdey (R-Livingston) and Sherri Cheek (R-Keithville), (2) two former black state senators want their old jobs back in districts with significant white minorities. Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport) is challenging two term incumbent Lydia Jackson (D-Shreveport), while Don Cravins Sr. (D-Opelousas) is challenging freshman Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas). Both of these races feature a third candidate who may siphon away enough votes to force a runoff in one or both races.

Louisiana House

There are currently 57 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents in the Louisiana House. In this chamber, you have more competitive seats, although Republicans are expected to maintain (and even expand) their majority. Some of that competitiveness is being driven by newly seats created between Lafayette and Slidell. These races could be the subject of several articles, so we will analyze the major ones through four prisms:

(1)   Democrats seriously contesting open Republican seats: there are a handful of races where retiring/term limited Republicans are seeing serious Democratic candidacies. In north Louisiana, Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro) decided to retire, and Democratic businessman Cleve Womack (who ran in 2007 and got 48% of the vote) is running against Republican sheriff Steve Pylant in a 69-24% Vitter district. A whopping 15% (one of the highest percentage statewide) of registered voters have already voted. In St. John Parish, retiring representative Nickie Monica (R-La Place) had the distinction of being one of three Republicans whose districts voted for Barack Obama. His district was redrawn to have a black majority (Barack Obama got 63% here) and is a guaranteed Democratic pickup – no Republican filed. Early voting has been similarly heavy here, with 13% of the vote already being cast. Up in the Felicianas, retiring Tom McVea (R-St. Francisville) saw his district redrawn to be more Democratic friendly (Vitter’s percentage was reduced from 58-36 to 53-41%), and five candidates (three Republicans and two Democrats) are contesting this seat;

(2)   Democrats seriously challenging a Republican incumbent: One Republican has a stiff challenge: freshman Republican Rick Nowlin (R-Natchitoches), whose district was redrawn to be majority black. However, looks can be deceiving: on closer inspection, the 55% black voting majority vanishes due to differences in voting intensity: in both the 2007 and 2010 elections, you actually had white voting majorities. Furthermore, in 2007, Rep. Nowlin (astonishingly for a Republican) received over 60% of the black vote in his old district. Even though he has two black opponents this year, 10-20% of the black vote would assure him a first primary victory. So he’s in better shape than the political pundits looking purely at surface demographics would suggest, although the early vote was the heaviest in the entire state– 16% of voters have already cast a ballot;

(3)   Republicans seriously contesting open Democratic seats: Republicans have already picked up two Democratic held open seats: those of retiring Chris Roy, Jr (D-Alexandria) and term limited Damon Baldone (D-Houma), as only Republican races are competing for those seats. In addition, Republicans have serious candidates for the seats of retiring Democrats Bobby Badon (D-Carencro) and Reed Henderson (D-Violet) – Henderson’s seat has seen heavy (15% of voters) early voting. Plus, term limited Gary Smith (D-Norco) saw his district redrawn to be a conservative friendly district that voted 67-28% for David Vitter. Finally, there is a newly drawn black majority district in Baton Rouge where two serious black Republicans are running. What helps their candidacies is that in prior elections, lower minority turnouts have produced an electorate that is over 40% white. With that demographic breakdown, you are theoretically within the range where a black Republican can be competitive;

(4)   Finally, a natural outgrowth over conservative groups’ being more aggressive in pursuing legislative gains is that they feel confident enough to target Democratic incumbents in districts that once were forbidding territory for Republicans. In Central Louisiana, freshmen Democrats James Armes (D-Leesville) and Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) narrowly defeated Republican opponents in 2007, and they similarly face stiff challenges from Republicans this year. In Acadiana, freshmen Democrats Jack Montoucet (D-Scott) and Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) similarly face Republican challenges in areas where President Obama is a noticeable drag on local Democrats, as was evidenced by the Vitter and Dardenne percentages last year.

All in all, these races (from governor to the legislative races) will be interesting to watch. JMC Enterprises of Louisiana will have post election analyses, and, of course, will be updating the profile of each district for those who were victorious in the primary.