Friday, May 17, 2024

Melinda DeSlatte: Election reminds just how red Louisiana has become

by Associated Press

If Louisiana’s decision to reelect a Democratic governor last year made anyone forget about the state’s political bent, the latest presidential and congressional elections provided a definitive reminder that Louisiana remains strongly conservative and deeply red, particularly in federal races.

President Donald Trump solidly won the state, Republican congressional incumbents easily won reelection, an anti-abortion amendment received overwhelming support and the only undecided U.S. House seat appears likely to be a runoff between two GOP contenders.

Some Democrats looked to the 2019 reelection victory of John Bel Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, as a harbinger of better chances Louisiana would embrace the party’s candidates for more statewide offices.

But Edwards’ victory involved a special set of election circumstances and a political unicorn of a Democratic candidate for Louisiana. He’s a moderate, anti-abortion, pro-gun former Army ranger from a law enforcement family who faced weak Republican opponents in an off-year election.

The 2020 election cycle played to a more traditional storyline in Louisiana, where Republicans maintained their strength, incumbency remained powerful and partisan feelings for the presidential competition appeared to drive decisions down the ballot.

Trump received 58% of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Louisiana, the same percentage he received four years earlier and a higher number of individual votes than in 2016.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy easily bested a field of 14 opponents to win 59% of the vote and avoid a runoff election, despite Democratic efforts to push Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins for the job with high-profile endorsements and fundraising.

Among other Louisiana election takeaways:

—State sentiment remains staunchly anti-abortion, as demonstrated by the overwhelming support for Amendment 1. More than 62% of voters agreed to rewrite the Louisiana Constitution to ensure it does not offer protections for abortion rights, a provision that would become relevant if the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide is overturned.

—Contested presidential races drive turnout. More than 69% of Louisiana’s registered voters cast ballots for the presidential competition, but the number of people who bothered making decisions in other races was lower. Sixty-seven percent voted in the U.S. Senate race, and the percentages dropped further for the seven constitutional amendments on the ballot statewide, according to turnout data from the Secretary of State’s office.

That means candidates forced into a Dec. 5 runoff election should likely expect a sizable drop in voter participation next month, when voters in northeast and central Louisiana will decide a U.S. House seat, New Orleans voters will pick a new district attorney and Baton Rouge voters will determine whether to keep their incumbent Democratic mayor or replace her with a Republican.

—Louisiana voters are getting used to casting their ballots ahead of Election Day. Of Louisiana’s more than 2.1 million votes in last week’s election, the Secretary of State’s office said slightly more than half were cast on Election Day. Another 38% were cast during the 10-day in-person early voting period, and 8% were done through absentee ballot. Early voting shattered records this year.

—Of three state House members running for other elected positions this fall, only one emerged victorious. Republican Rep. Stephen Dwight was elected Calcasieu Parish district attorney. His exit from the House will cause a reshuffling on one of the most important committees of this term, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Dwight has chaired. That panel will take the lead in the House on the redrawing of political maps after the latest U.S. Census is released.

—Voters have put to rest a yearslong dispute between Edwards and Treasurer John Schroder over Louisiana’s unclaimed property money. The governor and Republican treasurer struck the agreement, but voters needed to approve a constitutional amendment to wrap up the deal.

The amendment backed by 64% of voters will lock up the unclaimed property dollars in a trust fund, keeping lawmakers and the governor from spending the money owed to people on general government expenses, as they had done for decades. In exchange to backing the trust fund Schroder wanted, Edwards and lawmakers got to spend millions of the unclaimed property dollars earlier this year to piece together the budget one last time.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. 

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