Louisiana has its off-year primary election on Saturday; of course, all races use the Louisiana Rules Top Two jungle primary format, with a runoff scheduled for mid-November if no one crosses 50%. At stake is a special election for the Treasurer seat and one of five districts on the Public Service Commission, as well as the mayoral race in New Orleans. There are also elections abroad this weekend in Austria and Kyrgyzstan. Polls in Louisiana close at 9ET Saturday and we will have a brief liveblog.
LA-Treasurer: The big election this week is the special election for Treasurer, to replace now-Sen. John Kennedy (R). Appointed incumbent Ron Henson (R), who was Kennedy’s deputy and took over for the interim, is not seeking the seat. Four notable candidates, one Democrat and three Republicans, are running in this year’s special.
Attorney Derrick Edwards (D) is certain to come in first, by virtue of being the only serious Democrat. Edwards is an interesting candidate; he is a quadriplegic who overcame his disability to get a law degree. However, Edwards has not shown any signs of fundraising (he had a total of $667 in his most recent campaign report) or running a serious campaign, meaning that the state’s Democratic establishment is giving him essentially no real support. CW is that he will come in first by a large margin – and then lose the runoff by a large margin to any of the three serious Republicans. Thus, the real contest is which Republican will advance to the second round with Edwards. And though the race is looking close to a three-way tossup, it’s one of the less interesting competitive statewide elections we’ve seen, as the three Republicans are more similar than different. All three would qualify as experienced, well-funded, relatively establishment-leaning mainstream conservatives, meaning this race is mainly differentiated on personality and geography. The three Republicans did not help themselves by hoarding their cash until the last moment, meaning all three are still little-known and turnout is likely to be rock-bottom.
State Rep. John Schroeder (R) represents a conservative district on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain and looks like the very nominal front-runner. He has led the field in fundraising by a significant margin, aided by his resigning his seat to focus on the campaign. Schroeder is a mainstream conservative and likely to have a base in the high-turnout New Orleans suburbs. He placed second in the only independent poll of the race, though that was back in August before all three candidates went up with TV ads, and has more recently released an internal showing him in second to Edwards as well. However, it’s an open question how much use polling is in this race, as all polls have shown the three Republicans taking low vote shares and tightly bunched.
Jindal Admin official Angele Davis (R) is second in fundraising. Davis is attempting to cast herself as the most vocal Trumpist in the field. (In a sign of how toxic Jindal still is, Davis takes great pains to hide her involvement in his administration in her campaign material.) Davis, the only candidate from the Baton rouge area, has put out internals showing her in second to Edwards just as Schroeder has. She has also put out an ad with the endorsement of popular former Gov. Mike Foster (R), whom she also worked for.
Finally, State Sen. Neil Riser (R) represents a rural seat in the northeast part of the state; he is likely to run up the margin in rural northern areas. Riser has also made an unorthodox but potentially good choice strategically; he has put in more attention to flipping Democrats in New Orleans (who are likely to be high-turnout because of the mayoral race) than his rivals, meaning he may be able to make the runoff on crossover votes. All three candidates are well-funded and have been trading barbs, and overall this race for second looks like something close to a 3-way Tossup. Two non-serious candidates, one Republican and one Libertarian, are also in the race. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
LA-PSC-2: Louisiana’s Public Service Commission is a 5-member body that currently breaks down as 3R-2D. The 2nd district is up for a special election this year. The seat looks like a larger version of the congressional LA-6, covering essentially the entire Baton Rouge area save the black-majority north side of Baton Rouge proper, plus most of Lafayette and the Houma area to the south. It has a PVI of ~R+23 (2008). This year, three Republicans are running for the seat, but they are of very different persuasions. The seat is up this year as prior incumbent Scott Angelle (R) was tapped for a Trump administration job, and three Republicans are facing off. This field looks depressingly weak, as evidenced by the fact that the front-runner for the seat is a former legislator who was embarrassed in a State House race just two years ago.
Ex-State Rep. Lenar Whitney (R) has the official GOP endorsement and looks like the overall front-runner, though she has generally been regarded as a political lightweight. She won a State House seat in 2011 and ran an underwhelming campaign for LA-6 in 2014, before losing her re-election bid in 2015 by a large margin to a more centrist Republican. Whitney is a staunch antiestablishment conservative who relishes casting herself in the Palin/Bachmann bomb-thrower mold; pundit David Wasserman once called her “the most frightening candidate” he ever interviewed. Of course, having media against her is an asset in this district, especially when Whitney’s conservative credentials run laps around her two rivals.
If Whitney’s brew of conservatism is distinctly on the strong side, her rivals err on the opposite side; both of them can quite reasonably be described as RINOs. Gov. Jon Bel Edwards (D) tapped ex-State Rep. Damon Baldone (R) as the appointed interim incumbent. Baldone served as a Democratic State Rep, and was Whitney’s predecessor. Like Whitney, he is generally regarded as a weak candidate and political leightweight. Baldone once notably tried to get himself listed on the ballot as both a Democrat and a Republican; he also was acknowledged to have participated in the affair-setup site Ashley Madison, and has had a $4M judgement against him in a business deal. This year, Baldone apparently got the appointment by misleading Edwards into thinking he wouldn’t run for election, but then filed to run, switching to the GOP in the process. Edwards pointedly withheld an endorsement of Baldone.
As Edwards has not been hesitant to support RINOs for various offices, it seems possible that his real choice in the race is surgeon Craig Greene (R). Greene, whose father was a legislator a generation ago, is closely tied to ex-LG and Edwards admin official Jay Dardenne (R). Greene is a Dardenne-style moderate who publicly endorsed Edwards in 2015. By resume Greene seems to be stronger than his rivals, but the Edwards endorsement is a big stone around his neck in such a conservative district. Additionally, Baldone’s name recognition may usurp Greene’s claim on the more moderate vote and box Greene out of the runoff. Overall, Whitney looks like the clear front-runner; it would be shocking if Whitney did not come in first and she may have a chance to win without a runoff. If Whitney comes in below 50, either Greene or Baldone has a chance to advance with her, and the results in the first round (specifically, how far below 50 Whitney comes in) could be informative as to who has the advantage in the second round. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
New Orleans-Mayor: New Orleans is coextensive with Orleans Parish (County); it has a population of 400K that breaks down as roughly 60% Black and 30% White. It has a PVI of D+32 (2016). New Orleans has three major socioeconomic groups: upper-income whites, particularly in the city’s northwest and around Tulane, low-income blacks in the central part of the city, and middle-class blacks in the suburban New Orleans East and Algiers neighborhoods. 18(!) candidates are in the race this year, but only five are notable, all Dems. There are three front-runners in the race, all of whom are well-known black establishment liberals who have split establishment support. Retired judge Desiree Charbonnet (D) has led the race in fundraising. Charbonnet is a longtime local pol who received national buzz on the bench as one of the first judges to try sentencing-reform initiatives. She is running as a mainstream liberal, and probably has the strongest establishment support, particularly from unions. Charbonnet also has a big endorsement from US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), who represents the bulk of the city. City councilwoman LaToya Cantrell (D) is probably the most left-wing major candidate in this field, though she is still a mainstream liberal and not all that far left of her rivals. She has strong name recognition from representing a fifth of the city on the council, as well as some establishment support. Retired judge and 2014 candidate Michael Bagneris (D) is the most moderate of the three major candidates, though again the differences are quite slight. He has name recognition from his run against incumbent Mitch Landrieu (D) four years ago as well as significant establishment support. Two other candidates are worth a mention; while both are long-shots to make a runoff they will probably draw a few points each. Businessman and 2010 candidate Troy Henry (D) is also running a serious campaign; like the three other candidates he is a mainstream liberal. Though he may get a few points, he trails his three rivals in establishment support and doesn’t have an obvious point of differentiation; as a result, most polls have him in single-digits. Conversely, there is also a sideshow in businessman Frank Scurlock (D), the only major white candidate in the race and the only one with his own ideological lane. A former Republican, Sculock is now running as a DINO and his signature issue is a staunch defense of Confederate monuments. Scurlock has self-funded considerably (he owns a national moon-bounce business) and he may get a few points with his conservative platform. However, he has major liabilities (including being charged for masturbating in an Uber) that mean he is unlikely to get more than a couple points.. Overall, this race looks like close to a pure 3-way Tossup between Cantrell, Charbonnet, and Bagneris, with any two able to advance to a runoff. Because the three are so similar, any pairing will be competitive in the runoff.
Legislative Specials: There are also two legislative seats up. LA-LD-58 is a D+21 (2016) rural seat along the Mississippi River near Donaldsonville. St. James Parish commissioner Ken Brass (D), 2015 candidate Miguel Aubert (D), businesswoman Adrienne Ricard-Cornish (D), and engineer Alsie Dunbar (D) are running; all seem serious and any two could advance to a runoff. LA-LD-77 is an R+30 (2016) seat in exurbs around Covington on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Three Republicans, antiestablishment-leaning 2014/16 US Senate candidate Rob Manness (R), Covington councilman Mark Wright (R), and judge Casey Revere (R), are in the race. One “Independent” (really a Dem in all but name), attorney Lisa Condrey-Ward (I), is also in the race. CW is that Manness is the strong favorite due to his name recognition, and could even wrap it up today. But any of the other three (particularly Wright, who has some local establishment support and name rec) may be able to join him in a runoff.
Austria: Austria has its general election on Sunday; the Alpine nation has a population of 8.8M and a land area roughly the size of South Carolina. Austria has one of the first world’s more complicated electoral systems: the 183 members of the legislature are elected by proportional representation in two layers: one set of multi-member constituencies based on the 9 states, and another set of 39 smaller districts. The constituencies are multi-member and there is a threshhold of 4% for representation from a given constituency. Austria has a complicated multi-party system that belies how stable the country’s politics are: the two largest parties habitually form Grand Coalitions and have historically amiably divided the spoils of government between them, more often than not rendering elections all but irrelevant. The current government is headed by the Socialists (SPO), a fairly standard social-democratic party. Polling suggests that they are around 25% and will lose their position as the top party to their coalition partners, the center-right People’s Party (OVP), a pro-business, pro-Europe centrist-to-mildly-conservative group similar to Germany’s CDU. The OVP is currently polling around 33%. Historically, the main opposition has been the Freedom Party (FPO). The FPO is arguably the most mainstream and most successful of Western Europe’s nationalist-populist parties, being a junior partner in an OVP government in the early 2000s and getting 46% in last year’s presidential election. The FPO is polling around 25% and may be able to beat out the SPO for the second spot. Ideologically, it is probably one of the worlds Trumpiest parties, combining relatively free-market (for Europe) fiscal policies with moderate nationalism. While the SPO and OVP have not been eager to work with the FPO per se, they have not ruled it out. Importantly, after a recent change in leadership, the OVP in particular seems to be more keen to form a coalition with the FPO than the SPO. The fourth-largest party is the Greens, who are more moderate than most Green Parties and of a distinctly mainstream center-left nature on non-environmental issues. The Greens scored a major victory last year with the election of President Alexander Vanderbellen. However, they are in no position to capitalize on that, as a leadership dispute has caused the party to split in two, with the competing Pilz List taking about half the Greens’ votes; both are polling around 5%. There are also two more parties who will likely get parliamentary representation: the Economist-style liberal NEOS, who are polling around 5%, and the Freedom Party of Salzburg (FLO), a splinter group of the FPO based in Salzburg, who may take a few seats there. Overall, the OVP is set to take over as the largest party, and CW seems to be betting on them shaking things up by forming a coalition with the FPO rather than the SPO this time. However, another grand coalition (with the OVP in the lead rather than the SPO) should not be discounted as a possibility.
Kyrgyzstan: The central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan is holding a presidential election on Sunday as well. Kyrgyzstan is a post-soviet nation of 5.7M, largely ethnic Kyrgyz and Muslim. By the low standards of its global neighborhood, Kyrgyzstan is a fairly democratic nation, with seriously-contested elections. I am totally unqualified to discuss the dynamics of this race, but the two front-runners appear to be Sooronbay Jeenbekov, who is backed by the incumbent government, and Omurbek Banbanov, who is backed by the government of neighboring Kazakhstan.