On Saturday, Louisiana voters went to the polls to decide whether Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards deserved a second term, or whether a Republican should replace him. Because of the nature of the primary, there was little doubt Edwards would make it to November. The question was whether he could hit 50 percent and avoid the run-off. He failed. Spectacularly.
A multitude of notable variables came out of Saturday. The first was which Republican will face Edwards in November. Businessman Eddie Rispone, a multi-millionaire nobody, burst onto the political scene six months ago and spent millions of his own money to air ad after ad depicting Edwards as a standard liberal and his primary GOP challenger, Congressman Ralph Abraham, as a weakling. Rispone also ran a distinctly pro-Trump campaign and tied his campaign to voters feeings about Trump. In Louisiana, not a bad decision.
Trump was in the state Friday night arguing voters should deny Edwards a second term. It seemed to work. In a conservative state like Louisiana it should not surprise Edwards was denied a run-off. Except for how he was denied a second term.
In 2015, Edwards cruised to his first term 56-43. His win was significant in the state, carrying not just the majority of majority-black counties but also majority-white counties. This go-round, the rural/urban divide was distinct with Edwards relying heavily on majority-black Orleans Parish while the many white counties he had won before turned sharply against them. This, after four years of a successful record. Combined with a distinctly pro-Trump Republican winning, it cannot be a coincidence.
But, then a third variable must be considered. The failure again of polls to be able to account for the majority of undecided voters going Republican. In the run-up to the election, polls did show Edwards around his final 47 percent mark, but they showed the Republicans around a combined 45 percent of the vote. They took 53 percent. Combined with polls missing the Kentucky gubernatorial contest in 2015 similarly, the failure of state level polling in 2016 and 2018, Louisiana followed a similar pattern.
In other words, Louisiana’s results sure look like the nation; a divided electorate, a struggling polling industry attempting to get accurate results and pro-Trump/conservative voters power being underestimated.
Edwards fate is uncertain, a lot remains to be decided in the next four weeks. The campaign between Rispone and Abraham was brutal and some Abraham voters may not migrate over to Rispone. Plus, while Edwards was under 30 percent in several critical majority-white parishes Saturday, if Rispone cannot consolidate the GOP base he certainly can hit that mark (generally considered the percentage needed for a Democratic candidate to win statewide combined with 90 plus percent of the black vote).
But, for years Republicans have successfully tried to nationalize local and statewide races in Louisiana. There most notable success being the 2014 Senate contest which knocked out Mary Landrieu. The GOP failed in 2015 and they even failed in 2016 in several contests. But, this go-round, they might have finally succeeded. Combined with a Trump rally on Friday the numerous variables involved cannot be involved as coincidence.
Now, again, Louisiana is a conservative and one data-point does not equal a pattern. But we have seen in three Congressional special elections in Trump districts, rural voters have propped up the President and the party. In Wisconsin, we saw Republicans win an upset Supreme Court contest. It is not a stretch to say they did so again in Louisiana.
Unique to the state and Edwards, he is a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-marriage Democrat, meaning voters did not support him for other reasons. In four weeks, we will see if this was a blip and Edwards can overcome it.
Extrapolating the results nationally, until Trump’s Ukraine call, many Democrats were wary of impeaching Trump. This included even Nancy Pelosi and many freshman Democrats. Their thinking had to be worry about something like Louisiana occurring, the polls missing like 2016, and being punished for sitting in red to purple districts in an extremely polarized impeachment process.
Democrats eventually came around and they argue the President is in deep. deep trouble. Obviously Trump is, and voters do not like him or what he did, but this does not mean they will automatically side with Democrats or against Republicans.
Indeed, another variable is polling. Even in the Democratic wave of 2018, polling was far from accurate. Indeed, in the states the GOP won key contests in (FL Senate and Governor, IA Governor, OH Governor) and numerous other contests the GOP lost like MI and OH Senate contests, the GOP exceeded expectations (while admittedly falling short elsewhere).
Polling has far from fixed these mistakes. Which has to be a consideration when polls show the President losing in every state, and a majority favoring impeachment. Democrats believe they hold the upper hand. Just like in North Carolina where the polls underestimated GOP turnout. Just as they did in Louisiana. But reality was a different story.
Indeed, the early voting numbers leading up to Saturday should have given the party pause. As we can see from the chart below, Democrats have historically dominated early voting and they did so by a whopping 17 points four years ago. They even led by six points in 2016. This go-round, they did so by a single point. Considering Republicans win on election day, these results match the final voting tally.
Republicans shouldn’t assume this means easy victories. The same urban/rural divide was apparent in these polling misses and Republicans held, they did not gain, ground. So, Republicans don’t automatically win in this equation. But, they do better than conventional wisdom suggests.
In the coming month we will see if this pattern repeats itself in the gubernatorial contests in Kentucky where GOP Governor Matt Bevin is tying himself to Trump and underperforming in the polls (though it should be noted the majorityf of polling has been done by partisan Democratic firms), the run-off in Louisiana, and the Governor’s race in Mississippi (though it is widely expected the GOP will win in Mississippi). If so, despite how the polls say Trump and the GOP is doomed, it should give Democrats pause in their current path. It probably will not though. Which could be good for the country.