Louisianans might have sent a message to President Obama and his party on November 4th, but electorally that message was largely muddled. Combined with Louisiana’s unique majoritarian-blanket primary system three major federal races remain outstanding; the 5th and 6th Congressional districts and the state’s US Senate race.
In all three races Republicans are heavily favored. The reasoning is simple. Both the 5th and 6th Congressional districts are heavily Republican. The 5th has a PVI of R+15 and the 6th a PVI of R+21. The state of Louisiana has a PVI of over R+12 though until recently Louisianans had little qualm with electing Democrats statewide.
First, let’s look at the two Congressional races before we move to the marquee Senate race. Geographically, the 5th CD is massive, running from the Northeastern corner of the state to St. Tammany Parrish. The district has some majority-minority parrishes but other than that Democrats have no clear strongholds there. The 6th is a largely suburban district centered around Baton Rouge with a few Democratic enclaves.
In the 2014 November primary, Republicans split their support in both districts so no single nominee came close to 50%. But in both districts, the combined vote of all GOP nominees was well over 50%. In the 5th, Republicans combined vote was greater than 69% and in the 6th it was over 60%.
This means Republican primary winners Ralph Abraham (5th) and Garret Graves (6th) only have to consolidate their bases on election day. Abraham faces Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo (D) while Graves faces former Democratic Governor (and convict) Edwin Edwards (D). Edwards has the ability to appeal to the few blacks in his district but seems unable to win enough whites. Mayo just lacks cash and name ID outside Monroe. Both races should easily go Republican.
To many people the most important race in the state is Mary Landrieu’s (D) Senate race. In the November primary she garnered just over 42% of the vote and beat her strongest rival, Congressman Bill Cassidy (R) by 1%. But the combined GOP vote for the primary was easily in excess of 42%, 55.8% to be exact.
Historically, Landrieu has outrun her November primary performances as she has consolidated party and Independent support. In 1996, she garnered only 21% in a GOP heavy primary field but narrowly won in a runoff (50.2%). In 2002, she garnered 46% of the vote in the primary but won with 51.70% in the runoff. Most recently, in 2008 she won outright with over 52%.
But while Landrieu has been winning the state has been consistently shifting red. In 1996, when Landrieu first ran, the state had a GOP Governor but a strongly Democratic legislator. The make-up of the state’s federal delegation was 5R/4D with fellow Democrat John Breaux representing the state in the upper chamber. Today, the state has significantly shifted rightward. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has been elected twice (no runoffs needed), the GOP dominates the legislature for the first time since reconstruction and only one other Democrat from a majority-minority district represents the state’s federal delegation. More alarmingly for Landrieu, she is the only Southern, white Democrat elected statewide left in the entire South (excluding Florida).
Combine these factors with the fact her opponent, Bill Cassidy, is a generic Republican and Landrieu has been tied to Obama and her task is herculean. Somehow she has to assemble a winning coalition of whites and blacks as she has in the past. Yet, while exit polls showed she won 96% of the black vote she won a mere 18% of whites in the first round. In 2008, she won over 30% of whites. To even be competitive she needs to have blacks represent 30% of the vote and win a minimum 25% of whites.
Looking at county level data is also instructive. In 2008, Landrieu dominated both East and West Baton Rogue Parrishes, racking up 110,000 votes in East and 6,700 in West. She won 57% in both. This go around she won a startling smaller percentage in each. In East she won 76,288 (51.5%) and West 4,207 (44%). In fact, the total combined GOP vote in West Baton Rogue crushed her vote total by over 5%. In traditionally Democratic St. Landry Parrish she suffered the same fate. In 2008, she won 23,762 votes (57%). But in November she won a mere 15,099 votes which equaled 46% of the vote. Again, the total GOP vote outran her total.
This county level data from November suggests Landrieu has little room to grow and that she has lost the support of older, more rural, and white Democrats. She has not done much to win it back with continuous support of Obamacare and clear gender/racial pleas for votes.
Recent polling out of the state shows us what we should see early Saturday night; a high single digit to low double-digit lead for Cassidy that holds through the night (even as Orleans Parrish reports). The state GOP, including Tea Party candidate Rob Manness, has coalesced around his candidacy. Conservative outside groups and the National Republican Party are outspending Landrieu and her allies by the millions.
Bellwether counties in the state include traditionally Democratic St. Landry Parrish, Bossier Parrish up North (staunchly Republican) and Orleans Parrish. The most important thing to watch for out of both Bossier and Orleans Parrish is turnout level. If turnout in Bossier eclipses 35,000 it means Republicans turned their base out and it is all over. But if turnout is below 2008 levels and Landrieu manages to get turnout in Orleans Parrish to 150,000 it could mean the race will be closer than expected.
All told though, Cassidy should win. The fundamentals suggest it, the polls suggest it, and spending levels suggest it. Obama is a drag on Landrieu, her brand is tarnished and Democrats seem demoralized everywhere since they lost the Senate in November. Republicans will finish off the 2014 elections strong by adding another seat to their Senate majority (54) and giving themselves the largest House majority the party has enjoyed since Herbert Hoover’s administration (247).
Addendum: Early voting stats out of Louisiana spell disaster for Landrieu. According to National Journal, as of Monday early voting turnout dropped among every demographic group but the drop was most acute among blacks (23.5%), women (12% and Democrats (17.9%) and in Orleans Parrish. Meanwhile, GOP turnout in early voting actually increased (3.4%). This is yet another indication of the mountain Landrieu has to climb in five days and signifies she is living on borrowed time.