(The end of) Decision 2015: What happened ?

At the onset of the 2015 election cycle, Senator David Vitter was considered the prohibitive favorite for Governor. Yet at the conclusion of last night’s runoff, his 44% showing was the worst statewide showing for a Republican candidate in a competitive race since the 1991 runoff, when Edwin Edwards defeated David Duke 61-39%. What conclusions can be drawn from the election results?

(1) It’s time to stop the “ruby red talk”: Prognosticators and pundits repeatedly said that Louisiana was a “ruby red” state that was irrevocably Republican. The election results proved otherwise: John Bel Edwards received an estimated 37% of the white vote while carrying 39 parishes. Also worth noting was that in addition to running 12 percentage points ahead of former Senator Mary Landrieu in her losing 2014 re-election race, he outpolled Landrieu in 63 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, even exceeding her near unanimous showing in Orleans Parish last year;
(2) A unified party is still important: In a televised debate last week, Vitter casually dismissed outgoing Lt Governor Jay Dardenne’s endorsement of John Bel Edwards as evidence that he was not “a real Republican.” Yet that vote was vital to Senator Vitter’s runoff chances. More specifically, given Senator Vitter’s anemic 23% primary showing, he needed 80% of the combined vote from Republicans Scott Angelle and Dardenne to win. Obviously, he fell far short of that number;
(3) Strong black turnout – While blacks turned out heavily for both early and absentee voting (they made up 30% of early vote ), unofficial precinct data shows that they turned out three percentage points less than the white vote did in yesterday’s voting (29% vs 32%). In other words, blacks were an estimated 30% of yesterday’s electorate. Overall voter turnout was 40%, which was one percentage point above the primary turnout, and 23% of Louisianians voted early;
(4) A new Democratic coalition – When JMC polled the governor’s race throughout the runoff, the presence of a “blue wall” was apparent: the more urban Baton Rouge and New Orleans media markets (i.e., southeast Louisiana) tend to prefer more moderate candidates, while the smaller media markets west of the Atchafalaya Swamp prefer more hard-edged conservative candidates. And those preferences showed up in the runoff results: Edwards received 60% of the vote in Baton Rouge/New Orleans, while only receiving 51% of the vote in the rest of the state. Cassidy, on the other hand, received 51% and 62% in those same areas, respectively, in the 2014 runoff;
(5) Was there a “Syria swing?” – Much was discussed last week about the impact of the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Louisiana and John Bel’s (according to the Vitter campaign) tepid initial response on Facebook. There was some impact, but it didn’t much affect the election outcome: David Vitter received 41% of the early vote and 45% of the election day vote. The victorious Republican lieutenant governor candidate, on the other hand, received 55% of both the early and Election Day vote;

In conclusion, this election cycle showed that while Louisiana voters prefer conservative candidates, it does not make them irrevocably Republican regardless of the candidate, especially if the Democratic candidate “checks the correct conservative boxes.” Campaign managers in future election cycles would be wise to note this example.