On Saturday, Democrat John Bel Edwards handily defeated Republican David Vitter and won election as the next governor of Louisiana. While the victory is certainly a positive outcome for the blue team, its significance is limited. Viewing the result though the lens of the race’s specifics and through the lens of what happened elsewhere in 2015, it becomes clear that Edward’s win was the exception and in no way indicative of a larger tide.
Vitter was damaged goods
In a red state like Louisiana, Edwards should have faced long odds in his attempt to earn the governorship. Indeed, over the summer, polls showed Vitter with a commanding lead. However, Vitter had an Achilles heel. The sitting Louisiana senator had more than a decade’s worth of stories of relations with prostitutes on his resume. That’s not an advantageous bullet point for a champion of traditional social values.
The effect of that baggage began to weigh on his poll numbers as October’s general primary approached, and he barely secured a place in Saturday’s runoff. Fortunately for Edwards, Vitter was able to survive the primary. Otherwise, we would probably be discussing how either Scott Angelle or Jay Dardenne, both legitimate Republican contenders, was able to capture the Governor’s Mansion. Vitter’s distant runner-up finish in the primary enabled Edwards to continue to hammer on Vitter’s scandalous past and come away with a surprisingly comfortable victory.
Bobby Jindal isn’t very popular
Just as with presidential elections, following a poorly-viewed sitting executive with a successor of the same party is problematic. For example, some would blame John McCain’s nomination in 2008 for the ascent of Barack Obama to the presidency. I would much more point to President George W. Bush’s upper-thirties approval rating. Any Republican would have had an enormous challenge defeating Obama that year.
That difficulty diminishes the more partisan the environment in which such an election takes place. Even though the current Louisiana governor Republican Bobby Jindal’s approval ratings are dismal in Louisiana, the state is much redder than the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, Louisiana voters entered this election season less amenable to another GOP governor in Baton Rouge. So, Edwards was able to capitalize on both a flawed candidate and a flawed incumbent.
Other 2015 Election Results
Republicans won everything else in Louisiana
It is telling to look at other statewide races that took place this year in Louisiana. Republicans swept them all. And all of them by landslide margins. In the lieutenant governor race, Republican Billy Nungessar won by double-digits in the runoff on Saturday. I point that race out because it is, in fact, the only other statewide runoff election that even featured a Democrat. In all other races, a Republican won the primary outright or two Republicans advanced to the runoff.
Republicans won or held serve in everything outside of Louisiana
Three weeks ago, the buzz was all about how badly polls had missed the Kentucky governor election. Republican Matt Bevin defied the pollsters and crushed Democrat Jack Conway to win that race by almost 9 points – despite being a 5-point underdog going in.
One place where Democrats held high hopes of making gains was in the state legislature races in Virginia. They need to pick up a net of just one state senate seat to gain the effective majority. They did manage to pick up a seat, but so did the GOP. As a result, the balance of power remained unchanged and Republicans held onto their slim majority.
Finally, In Mississippi, the Republican governor, Phil Bryant, cruised to an easy re-election victory. No news there, I know, but it completed a very positive election night for the GOP on November 3.
Overall, Edwards’ victory is pretty much all Democrats have to cheer about as we emerge from the 2015 elections. On the other hand, Republicans have plenty to feel good about. But the important question going forward is what do these results tell us about the coming elections in 2016.
Time will tell in that regard, but we do have a concrete outcome to note for next year’s elections. The Louisiana senate seat currently occupied by Mr. Vitter will be open. He confirmed after the votes were counted Saturday evening that he would not seek re-election. His decision represents a collateral victory for the GOP insomuch as it means the seat will likely remain in Republican hands.