By Nick Blazer, Manager, Social Media Services
Louisiana has a highly important election season this year. Big financial problems hang overhead. The governor’s and lieutenant governor’s races are both open seat races. A recent high profile defeat is leaving the Democratic Party wondering if it has a shot at the top executive seat, despite fielding a lone champion in a top-two primary. A possible gubernatorial victor could pick his successor to the United States Senate. The sitting attorney general, a Democrat-turned-Republican who was unchallenged in 2011, faces a competitive race. The entirety of the legislature is up for the grabs and soon-to-be freshmen and incumbents alike will return in 2016 to address the on-going budgetary issues in a special session, according to all four major gubernatorial candidates.
In the second of this year’s blogs about the gubernatorial, attorneys general, legislative and local government elections in 2015 and 2016, I take a look at the Louisiana gubernatorial race.
Who is Running for Governor?
Term limits prevent Governor Bobby Jindal (R) from running for a third term this year. Four Louisiana electeds are seeking to replace Governor Jindal, alongside any other individuals who want to run in the race. Louisiana features a September filing deadline and a top-two primary, which leaves open the possibility for more candidates to jump into the race and the opportunity for an outright win in October, although a runoff election is likely.
House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards (D) is the only major Democrat in the race, although New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s (D) name has been floated as another possible candidate. United States Senator David Vitter (R), Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne (R) and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (R) comprise the Republican field. All four candidates have been visible in Louisiana politics for a number of years. Edwards has served in the state House of Representatives since 2008; Vitter is a former congressman and state representative; Dardenne is a former one-term secretary of state and state senator; and Angelle, a Democrat-turned-Republican, served under both former Governor Kathleen Blanco’s (D) and Governor Jindal’s administrations, was a temporary lieutenant governor alongside Governor Jindal, and in 2012 successfully ran to be a public service commissioner.
The Issues Framing the Race
Louisiana’s budget problems are shaping the course of the race. The state has a $1.6 billion budget deficit for 2016, the lion’s share of which is not attributable to the plunge in oil prices. Projections prior to the plunge placed the expected deficit in 2016 at $1.2 billion. The legislature will address the shortfall this year, but will likely be forced to tackle it once again in 2016: all four gubernatorial candidates intend to call a special session since the Louisiana legislature can only deal with finances in odd years. Governor Jindal addressed the shortfall in his State of the State address earlier this week and his budget plan includes a combination of eliminating more than $500 million in tax credits and cutting government spending by about $1.2 billion.
But, it is not just this year’s budget that is framing the narrative arc – it is also the years following the Great Recession. Angelle, Dardenne, Edwards and Vitter are running against Governor Jindal; the four are using his track record and his choices to fix Louisiana’s reoccurring budgetary problems as a foil for their own campaigns.
So far, the candidates all agree tax credits and exemptions are on the table for cutting, although they diverge away from Governor Jindal about the details of the greater solution. Unlike Jindal, the candidates do not plan on pledging to not raise taxes. According to The Times-Picayune in January, Angelle and Edwards disagree with the slashing of higher education funding; Edwards is also interested in increasing revenue; Dardenne plans to examine the film tax credit and free enterprise problems; and Vitter would consider changes to the spending restrictions built into the Louisiana Constitution. The fourth forum in late March offered another window into the four contenders’ fiscal plans – all four now agree about “a review of the way most areas of the state budget have been protected from cuts” – but provided “few specific ideas” about what they would change. They were also against Jindal’s proposed inventory tax credit rollback as a means to close the budget deficit.
Adding to Louisiana’s budget woes, the state has a “$12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.” Talking about transportation issues in their first debate, the four candidates insist the way transportation funds are allocated must be revised and that the trust of voters must be restored in how transportation funds are spent before any revenue increases can be considered. Education is another topic which dominates the narrative, at the K-12 level with Common Core and at the higher education level with funding. Common Core was a subject in the second gubernatorial debate and Jay Dardenne is the only candidate who supports the standards. His status places him as the only candidate not at odds with the Louisiana business community on the issue too. The candidates have also discussed their views on coastal erosion and energy issues in the third forum.
The Outlook – Polls, Endorsements, Money and More
It is expected that the election will advance to a runoff between John Bel Edwards and one of the Republican candidates, as indicated by the sporadic polling data, although this outcome is not certain. Edwards has one advantage which could grant him an outright victory in October – the Democratic Party opted to unite behind him as their candidate in late March, so as to focus all of their energy and efforts on getting him elected and to deter any other Democrat with gubernatorial ambitions. Edwards will benefit from this choice because the chances of party-line voters diluting their vote between party candidates will be substantially lower.
Edwards will also need the help in spreading his message, gaining electoral support and most importantly, mobilizing voters. While Louisiana has gone red – Republicans control the legislature (in part thanks to David Vitter’s help), the governor’s office, both Senate seats and so on – the number of registered voters favor Democrats on the face of it. The figures shown below are for the first of Louisiana’s fall elections and do not contain figures for the runoff elections. Most of these elections have been held on a Saturday, excluding the last two major elections.
Democrats have a clear numbers advantage. In the 2014 general election, about 250,000 more registered Democrats turned out to vote than Republicans, and overall there were more than 500,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Put another way, the Democrats had about as many more registered voters in 2014 as about the total number of registered Republicans who turned out to vote on November 4, 2014. If the Democratic Party and Edwards can mobilize the base, they could give him a crucial edge in the election. But this year the jungle primary occurs in October – and as the above chart shows, overall turnout is substantially lower in these earlier elections.
There is also the winter defeat of Mary Landrieu which casts doubt on the Democrats’ ability to win another statewide election. In addition, while Democrats do possess the numbers advantage, they are clearly inhibited in electoral success by either a lack of straight-ticket party voting, a lack of appeal to non-Democratic voters, or both. Two polls in the last six months back this up on the basis of an interesting disparity.
A Suffolk University poll conducted last October, taking the pulse of the United States Senate race and also the 2015 gubernatorial race, included two questions about the makeup of respondents.
There were about 9% of respondents who remained registered as Democrats, but did not see themselves as Democrats. Triumph Campaigns in a recent March poll about the Louisiana races also included similar questions, but without the extra nuance of which party respondents felt affiliated with. Triumph also observed a similar disparity between party registration and feelings about party affiliation.
Is this a guarantee Edwards cannot attract more than 50% of the primary vote? No, but it does indicate he may have a steep hill to climb and his Republican rivals will have an easier time attracting Democratic votes. On that note, the presence of three Republican contenders is bound to divide Republican voters, which means a likely November runoff election. The question is, between which of the candidates? David Vitter is positioned as the Republican frontrunner – the direction of the polls so far, his ability to fundraise and the list of high-profile endorsements he has received provide strong indicators of this status. However, taking the voting population’s situation into consideration, Angelle and Dardenne could assemble a cross-party coalition of voters to give them an edge against Vitter, even leading to a showdown between two Republicans if they sap enough votes away from John Bel Edwards.
As it stands, Vitter leads in the polls with Edwards following behind (support for Edwards shot up after pollsters ceased including Mitch Landrieu in the questions). Former President George H.W. Bush (R); former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R); New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R); fellow United States Senators Rand Paul (R) and Bill Cassidy (R); and current Louisiana Congressmen Charles Boustany (R), Ralph Abraham (R) and John Fleming (R) have all voiced support for Vitter’s campaign. While there are not any new official campaign finance reports since the endorsements started to roll in, these have likely helped Vitter boost his already-substantial advantage in fundraising and outright largest war chest. The Advocate observed Vitter entered 2015 with more cash-on-hand than his Republican rivals combined, and for good measure it is not too far from the combination of all three of his rivals. Angelle’s amount raised is noteworthy too: unlike the other three candidates who have been in the race for some time, Angelle is an October newcomer who raised $1.5 million in the last three months of 2014. His status as a former Democrat, giving him the ability to appeal to both parties, can’t hurt his chances either.
In recent news, Jay Dardenne toured the state to “officially” kick off his campaign, stopping in cities including Alexandria, New Orleans and Schreveport. Scott Angelle was the first to air television advertisements as a means to bolster name recognition; it is a similar strategy to Kentucky’s Hal Heiner, as noted in the last election blog. David Vitter revealed the first two parts of his campaign plan he called “Together, Louisiana Strong,” which can be accessed on his campaign website. Finally, the Louisiana legislative session also kicked off this week, bringing John Bel Edwards back to the statehouse to work on key issues which are bound to come up on the campaign trail over the next few months.
The candidate qualifying period is September 8-10.
Louisiana will hold its open primary elections October 24.
Further Reading: (Coverage of) The Gubernatorial Debates So Far
- (1/16/15) The Times-Picayune – 2015 governor candidates forum: Louisiana has a roads and infrastructure problem / (1/21/15) The Advocate – Gubernatorial contenders say voter trust needed before highway boosts
- (3/6/15) The Advocate – Three of four candidates blast Common Core in second gubernatorial debate
- (3/13/15) The Times-Picayune – Louisiana governor candidates talk to energy industry leaders / (3/17/15) The Advocate – Louisiana gubernatorial candidates sound off on coastal erosion
- (4/6/15) The Advocate – Governor candidates talk tax incentives, budget crisis at forum / (3/31/15) The Times-Picayune – 4 things Louisiana’s governor candidates agree on — and one thing they don’t
Further Reading: Polls
- (10/27/14) Suffolk University – Final Louisiana October Toplines
- (12/19/14) The Advocate | Capitol News Bureau – Poll: David Vitter is early frontrunner for governor in 2015
- (1/12/15) LaPolitics – Latest Poll Predicts Democrat-Republican Runoff for Governor
- (1/19/15) North Star Opinion Research – Results of Annual Statewide Survey [Survey for Treasurer John Kennedy]
- (1/23/15) The Advocate | Capitol News Bureau – Poll: 46 percent of Louisiana residents view Bobby Jindal favorably
- (3/9/15) The Advocate | Capitol News Bureau – New Louisiana poll: Candidates don’t have enough early support to avoid runoff
- (3/18/15) MarblePort Polling – First Poll Released, LA Governors Poll: Vitter 34%, Bel Edwards 31%, Dardenne 14%, Angelle 7%, Undecided 14%
Further Reading: Stories About the Campaigns
- (1/4/15) The Advertiser – 2015 governor’s race: They’re at the gate
- (1/6/15) The Times-Picayune – Non-candidates important in Louisiana governor’s race, too: Jeremy Alford
- (1/15/15) The Times-Picayune – What Louisiana’s 2015 gubernatorial candidates are saying about the state’s budget crisis
- (1/16/15) The Times-Picayune – Quotes that help define the 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial candidates
- (1/24/15) The Times – Stephanie Grace: Here’s the gameplan Jay Dardenne, Scott Angelle, John Bel Edwards might use against David Vitter in race for Louisiana governor
- (2/25/15) National Journal – Why Bobby Jindal and David Vitter Hate Each Other
- (3/28/15) The Advocate | Capitol News Bureau – John Bel Edwards nominated as La Democratic Party’s sole candidate
- (3/31/15) The Times – Candidates for governor take aim at Jindal policies
- (4/5/15) KSL – Analysis: Jindal record under attack in governor’s race
- (4/9/15) KNOE – Republican candidates for governor visit the area
- (4/10/15) The Advocate – Stephanie Grace: Why unlikely allies like David Vitter, John Kennedy, Charles Boustany forming in Louisiana political field
- (4/11/15) The Advocate – Stephanie Grace: Bobby Jindal vs. David Vitter battle; senator positioning himself to be ‘shadow governor’ in upcoming session