Today we’re previewing this Saturday’s Runoff Election in Louisiana. Polls close at 9ET and we’ll be liveblogging. Three Statewide Offices are up for grabs; please check out our exclusive poll for complete data. A number of Legislative seats are also heading to second rounds, though almost all are one-party affairs and it’s hard to peg any highly competitive interparty races.
RRH has made the following Race Ratings Changes since our last look at these races in October, both in favor of Democrats:
LA-Gov Lean D from Lean R || LA-LG Likely R from Safe R
Additionally, we are putting LA-AG on the intraparty board at Likely Landry.
LA-Gov: For most of this race, State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) was something of a footnote. The state house minority leader was widely considered a “C” list candidate who Democrats turned to by default after bigger names like New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declined to run. For much of the campaign, Edwards was considered to have almost no chance to win and was thought to even be a long-shot to make the runoff. However, Edwards’s strategy of laying low for much of the race seems to have paid unexpected dividends, as he was able to consolidate the Democratic vote and finish a comfortable first in the primary with 40%. Edwards is very much Generic Louisiana D, a fiscal moderate and social conservative, which is a profile that has historically played well in the Deep South. However, Louisiana is deep red and trending even further right (as we saw in Sen. Bill Cassidy’s 2014 win) and Edwards was not considered to have the kind of crossover appeal needed to beat a strong Republican in the runoff. What has changed that dynamic is the somewhat unexpected weakness of Edwards’s rival, US Sen. David Vitter (R). Vitter was for several years considered to be the presumptive Governor-elect, with a massive statewide machine that he has used to push the legislature in a more antiestablishment populist-conservative direction. Indeed, Vitter has acted as something of a shadow governor in recent years, stymieing many of the initiatives of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). But Vitter has always carried a massive piece of baggage: the 2007 revelation that he had patronized the “DC Madam” prostitution ring while he was in the House around 2000. Vitter was able to move past the issue in 2010 and keep his Senate seat by leveraging his opposition to Obama, but those issues have proven less salient in a statewide race and voters who supported him on ideology in 2010 now seem to be increasingly uneasy with his character. Additionally, the feud between Vitter and Jindal (which has become something of a Mexican standoff, with a third faction loyal to LG Jay Dardenne (R)) has split the party wide open. Both of Vitter’s Republican rivals in the first round have pointedly refused to endorse him, and one, Dardenne, has gone so far to outright endorse Edwards. For his part, Edwards has been content to munch the popcorn and run as “not Vitter”, and that strategy has garnered him enough crossover support to burst out to a consistent lead in polling. In recent days, there does seem to be a sense that some Republicans may be coming around to choosing ideology over personality and holding their nose for Vitter; our poll showed Edwards with a relatively modest 48-42 edge. But it seems like it will be too little, too late for the Senator to fully overcome his personal issues and Edwards still seems on course for a modest victory. RRH currently rates this race as Lean D.
LA-LG: The #2 race on the statewide ballot looks far less competitive than the Governor’s race. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden (D) was the only Democrat in the primary field and had a generally well-regarded tenure as mayor of the state’s second-largest city. However, he has compiled a liberal record that makes his candidacy a tough sale in the conservative state, fundraised poorly, and scarcely garnered a third of the vote against three Republicans in October. Unlike his running mate at the top of the ticket, he also does not have the luxury of facing an unusually personally toxic Republican rival. Plaquemines CE Billy Nungesser (R) came up short in his 2010 bid for the LG seat, but edged into the runoff over his rival, Jefferson CE John Young (R), on a combination of a populist platform and name recognition from his leadership efforts during the BP oil spill. Nungesser has been very well-funded, and as an inoffensive mainstream conservative in the deep red state, is heavily favored over Holden; our poll had him leading 43-29. However, if Edwards is winning the gubernatorial race by a large margin there’s a slight chance a Dem wave could sweep Holden in, so we’ll play it safe and call this a Likely race. RRH currently rates this race as Likely R.
LA-AG: Incumbent Buddy Caldwell (R) switched from D to R just before his 2011, but has done a poor job of cultivating ties with his adopted party. Caldwell ran unopposed in 2011, but his moderate stances have spelled significant trouble for him this year. Ex-Rep. Jeff Landry (R), a staunch conservative who served one term in the House before losing a redistricting-induced 2012 primary, is trying for a comeback by running against Caldwell. Landry has garnered most Republican establishment support, including the official backing of the LAGOP. Initially the results of the October primary did not look promising for Landry, as he trailed Caldwell 35-33 with most of the remainder going to Democrats who might be more amenable to the moderate Caldwell. However, Landry has defied expectations over the last few weeks, shifting from a more ideological campaign to one hitting Caldwell on nonpartisan ethics issues regarding his running of the office and his cozy relationship with the unpopular state political establishment. As a result, Landry surprisingly received a key crossover endorsement from the third-place Democrat in the race and seems to be accumulating a surprising amount of crossover support. In our poll, Landry posted a broad lead over Caldwell, 45-24. It seems very unlikely Caldwell could win this race without a game-changer, but intraparty general elections can be somewhat hard to predict so we should say that Caldwell has a slight chance to pull a major upset. RRH currently rates this race as Safe R and Likely Landry.
State Senate: 4 State Senate seats are going to a second round, two of them intraparty (one D-on-D, one R-on-R) and two interparty. Dems picked up a seat in October, so depending on the results the State Senate could shiftt D+0 to D+2 from its current 26R-13D breakdown.
SD-7 is a D+15 seat based in the Algiers section of New Orleans and covering some suburban areas on the Westbank. Former New Orleans councilman Troy Carter (D), a mainstream liberal with most of the party establishment’s backing, led the first round 37-33. Carter is now in a runoff with State Rep. Jeff Arnold (D), a moderate Dem backed by some blue-collar unions. This one looks like the most competitive Senate race this week and there is no clear favorite.
SD-12 is an R+18 (but D-held) seat at the northeast corner of the state, stretching from Bogalusa to Kentwood. 2011 nominee Beth Mizell (R) is favored to win the seat she lost by 1% last time over retired community college dean Mickey Murphy (D). Mizell led the first-round 43-33, with another Republican taking 21%. Murphy’s only chance is if Edwards is winning the seat by a huge margin and bringing out a lot of straight-ticket Dems, which is a possibility but still somewhat unlikely.
SD-36 is an R+23 seat covering suburban and rural areas east of Shreveport around Minden. State Rep. Henry Burns (R) led antiestablishment-oriented businessman Ryan Gatti (R) 40-34 in the first round, with a Dem receiving the remainder. As Burns should have more crossover appeal he seems to be fairly strongly favored.
SD-38 is an R+12 seat covering Shreveport’s southern suburbs and some rural areas to the south. State Rep. Henry Burford (R), an antiestablishment conservative, is headed to a runoff with Conservadem attorney John Milkovich (D), who has extensive trial lawyer and evangelical support. Burford led the first round 35-33 and Republicans took 57% here, but Milkovich could have a chance to pull the upset if Edwards is winning the district by a significant margin.
State House: 14 State House seats are also up for grabs, but 12 of the 14 are intraparty affairs. The primary netted R+2 from the current 58R-43D-2I, meaning the net change could be R+1 to R+3.
LD-29 is a D+30 seat covering the North side of Baton Rouge and the suburb of Port Allen across the river. Baton Rouge councilwoman Ronnie Edwards (D) led 2011 candidate Edmond Jordan (D) 36-29 in the first round. A key issue in the race has been Edwards’s diagnosis two years ago of pancreatic cancer, which she says is in remission but has caused her to miss council meetings. Jordan has made Edwards’s health an issue; it’s unclear which way that will play.
LD-32 is our first intraparty runoff, for a rural R+29 seat north of Lake Charles. Incumbent Dorothy Sue Hill (D) was considered highly vulnerable but overperformed in the first round, leading carpenter and LAGOP official Biscuit Smith (R) 49-37, with a Democrat getting the remainder. Though the other Dem has endorsed Smith and the LAGOP has made this seat a priority Hill should be favored with better D turnout.
LD-34 is a D+29 seat covering the east side of Lake Charles. Incumbent AB Franklin (D) looks likely to lose after trailing ex-State Rep. Wilford Carter (D) 38-35 in the first round.
LD-40 is a D+12 seat based in Opelousas. Businessman Dustin Miller (D) led attorney Donovan Hudson (D) 29-19 in an 8-way field in October, but Hudson has raised more and has more establishment support, so this could go either way.
LD-45 is an R+25 seat covering urban and suburban areas on the west side of Lafayette. Insurance agent Andre Comeaux (R) led attorney Jean-Paul Coussan (R) 41-37 in the first round, so it looks like there is no clear favorite here.
LD-51 is an R+19 seat covering rural bayous between Houma and Morgan City. Moderate incumbent Joe Harrison (R) trailed Terrebonne CE Beryl Amedee (R) 41-37 in October. Amedee has most business support, but Harrison might be more amenable to crossover voters so it looks like there is no clear favorite.
LD-53 is an R+21 seat covering part of Houma and some rural bayou areas. Incumbent Lenar Whitney (R), known as a polarizing conservative, was edged out by 9 votes by attorney Tanner Magee (R). Both recieved 34% and the remainder went to a Dem, so it looks like Magee is favored here.
LD-63 is a D+28 seat covering northern Baton Rouge and the lower-middle class suburb of Baker. Ex-Baton Rouge councilman Ulysses Addison (D) led university administrator Barbara Carpenter (D) 33-30 in the first round, so there is no clear favorite in the second round.
LD-66 is an R+28 seat covering suburban areas on the southeast edge of Baton Rouge. Moderate incumbent Darrell Ourso (R) was held to just 38% in a crowded field in the primary and faces a runoff with minister Rick Edmonds (R), who took 23%. There does not seem to be a clear favorite.
LD-69 is an R+21 seat on the east side of Baton Rouge. Insurance agent Paula Davis (R) squeaked ahead of Baton Rouge councilman Ryan Heck (R) 38-37 in the first round. Davis is considered somewhat more moderate and probably a marginal favorite.
LD-72 is a D+13 seat around Amite and Kentwood formerly held by John Bel Edwards. The black-majority seat has a runoff between two white candidates. Ex-State Rep. Robby Carter (D) led Greensburg councilman Hunter Carter (D) 43-20 in the first round, so Robby looks like the clear favorite this week.
LD-99 is a D+44 seat based in (appropriately enough for the number) New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward. Jimmy Harris (D), a staffer to US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), is heavily favored over Some Dude Ray Crawford (D) after leading 47-30 in the first round.
LD-100 is a D+43 seat in New Orleans East. Legislative staffer John Bagneris (D) led hospital board member Alicia Clivens (D) 38-28 in the first round and looks at least slightly favored this week as the two have both garnered some establishment support.
LD-103 is our second interparty runoff, for a R+10 seat based in St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans. Incumbent Ray Garofalo (R) has garnered the ire of trial lawyer groups, who have spent heavily against him on behalf of R-turned-D St. Bernard Parish commissioner Casey Hunnicutt (D). Garofalo led 39-22 in the first round, with Republicans combining for 58%, so Garofalo looks like a moderate favorite. But Hunnicutt could have a chance if Edwards’s vote is strong in the district.
BESE: Two State School board seats are also up for grabs, both R-on-R affairs between a LABI (business group) backed pro-education reform candidate and a union-backed anti-Common Core candidate. LABI candidates had outspent their rivals dramatically in the first round, but now that the group has clinched 6 of the 8 spots the urgency seems to have gone down for them in the last two races and the union-backed candidates look favored in both seats. BESE-4 covers the northwest part of the state around Shreveport. Union-backed incumbent Mary Harris (R) led LABI-backed chamber of commerce official Tony Davis (R) 43-37 in the first round and is probably favored. BESE-6 covers most of Baton Rouge and most of the Florida Parishes to the east. Union-backed school administrator Kathy Edmonston (R) took 47% of the vote in a crowded field October and is heavily favored over engineer Jason Engen (R), who took just 19%.