GOP Benchmark For Fall Elections: 8 House Pickups, 1 In Senate

The guess here is Republicans might do a little better than those numbers, but without seeing exactly who’s running it’s impossible to be sure.

Where did this benchmark come from? John Couvillon’s latest Pulse Of Louisiana poll from yesterday.

He asked three questions in the poll – one on term limits, one on whether voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate tied to trial lawyers or business interests (more on that later), and finally a generic Republican-vs-Democrat in state legislative elections.

Republicans beat Democrats on that third question by a 43-35 margin. And the internal numbers were very interesting.

First, and this isn’t really a surprise but it puts some actual numbers behind what most folks knew – Democrat generic candidates only get 53 percent of the vote from registered Democrats in the poll. Republican generic candidates get 26 percent, with 20 percent undecided. For Republicans, it’s 79-6 with 15 percent undecided.

There are a whole bunch of people in Louisiana who are registered Democrats but actually function as Republicans. That’s some quarter of the Democrats. For whatever reason the GOP hasn’t been able to get these people to change their voter registration (I think it has to do with the jungle primary system which makes party registration irrelevant), but what it means is while Louisiana is some 50.2 percent Democrat and 26.7 percent Republican the functional number is a little different based on the response to John’s question.

Because if you apply that 26 percent crossover figure to the Democrat share of the vote, the Dems lose 13.1 percent off that 50.2 to the GOP. That takes functional Democrat registration down to 37.1 percent.

Subtract the 6 percent crossover from the 26.7 percent share of registered voters who are Republican and the remainder is 25.1 for the GOP – which goes to 38.2 when you add the crossover Democrats. And with crossover votes added to the Dems, they end up with 38.7 percent.

So the two parties are basically even in terms of the size of their voter bases/effective registrations.

But 23.2 percent of the state’s voters are independents or members of third parties. It’s my contention that here, as well as nationally, there are more independents who are conservatives disaffected with what they see as “country-club” Republicans than there are wishy-washy centrists who don’t know what they want to vote for. John’s poll seems to bear that out, as there’s a 41-21 advantage for generic GOP candidates among independents. Some 38 percent of independents are undecided, while there are 20 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans.

That 41-21 number is pretty close to the breakdown of national polling which indicates that regardless of party preference about 40 percent of voters are conservatives and 20 percent are liberal. Given that our jungle primary system generally makes it unnecessary to register for one party or another, it’s not unreasonable to see the state’s independents as a decent cross-section of the voting public in general.

But John applied these numbers to a couple of recent Republican-vs-Democrat statewide elections as an ideological measure of the voting public, and I think he’s on to something.

Namely, the best statewide race for Democrats in recent years was the 2008 Senate race when Mary Landrieu beat John Kennedy. In that race Kennedy only got 46 percent of the vote, and among the 144 legislative districts in the state (105 in the House and 39 in the Senate) he carried 70 – 51 House districts and 19 Senate districts. Those were pretty standard numbers against a 46 percent share of the popular vote.

But compare those numbers to last year’s Senate race between David Vitter and Charlie Melancon and you’ll see what the potential could be for the GOP in this fall’s cycle. Vitter got 57 percent of the vote in that election, but he carried 99 of the 144 House and Senate districts – 72 in the House and 27 in the Senate.

John’s numbers in this poll gave him a 52-48 split to use as a benchmark in this fall’s elections. He got that number by taking the undecideds and allocating all of the black voters to the Democrats (in the poll blacks chose generic Democrats over Republicans by a 76-5 margin, with 18 percent undecided) and then taking white and other-ethnicity undecideds and splitting them down the middle between the two parties.

At 52-48 to the GOP, John projects 63 House seats and 23 Senate seats would go Republican this fall. That’s a gain of eight in the House and one in the Senate.

I’m going to say that the GOP will do better than 52-48 this fall, for two key reasons. First, the Democrats don’t have anybody at the top of the ticket. Tara Hollis is not going to mobilize the 38 percent of the vote that constitutes the Democrat base; it’s just not gonna happen. And if they do manage to get somebody of actual note to run, the likelihood is that their candidate could irritate at least some of that base. A Lydia Jackson or Sharon Weston Broome will drive away some of that 20 percent undecided vote among Democrats (read: wishy-washy white voters) if party or ideology makes a difference in legislative races, while a John Georges or Foster Campbell will do little to fire up the African-American voter base. And those down-the-ballot races are affected by the top of the ballot, as we’ve seen time and time again.

More than that, though, the Democrats right now don’t have too many candidates in the middle of the ballot either. The Lt. Governor’s race is between two Republicans in Billy Nungesser and Jay Dardenne. The Attorney General’s race is between Buddy Caldwell and Joseph Cao, with Mary Olive Pierson looking like a relatively unserious candidate if she runs at all. If any Dems are running against Jim Donelon (Insurance Commissioner) or Mike Strain (Agriculture Commissioner), word hasn’t reached us to date. Caroline Fayard will run for Secretery of State against three Republicans (incumbent Tom Schedler, House Speaker Jim Tucker and Rep. Walker Hines), making her the only Democrat of note announced so far in the secondary statewide races.

Today is the day after the 4th of July. The 4th is typically the start date for Louisiana’s statewide cycle. If you haven’t announced a candidacy yet, it’s getting late. So if we don’t start seeing some people running in the next few days, it’s going to start looking like the Dems are sitting this cycle out. And a party which isn’t contesting the races that actually turn voters out is going to have a tough time turning out the vote.

But 63 House seats and 23 Senate seats is a decent number for the state GOP to govern with. The question would be how conservative the butts in those seats will be – and that’s a function of how many intraparty GOP races in the more conservative districts will come about.

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