SADOW: Are Democrats Starting To Give Up On John Bel Edwards?

Presented with a quandary about whether to support their party in this year’s gubernatorial contest, Democrats are responding in a way forecasting that if the front-runner doesn’t win there won’t be a Democrat winner either in 2015.

Previous polls made Republican Sen. David Vitter the favorite, followed not too far away by Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne somewhat farther back, and Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle lagging the field in the single digits. The most recent of the bunch confirmed this pecking order but gave Vitter a larger lead at 38 percent, with Edwards at 25 percent falling back towards Dardenne’s 16 percent, and Angelle still dragging the rear considerably with 5 percent.

Those older ones raised some questions about their sampling frames and the relatively low number of undecided votes. This one, by Southern Media and Opinion Research, had a better sampling frame and came up with roughly the same proportion undecided. Given that it happened two months later, that roughly equivalent proportion appears more reasonably valid and thereby shows a firming of support driven not so much by party label and name recognition.

It also may foretell the answer Democrats could supply regarding their role in this race. The quandary Democrats face is that Edwards simply cannot win, as the numbers reiterated here increasingly bear out, meaning perhaps they should cut their losses by supporting the most “acceptable” Republican. By these numbers, the majority of his support is non-white voters and, even in a runoff, he would not pull more than a quarter of the white vote. That gives him a ceiling of 45 percent against any opponent.

Of course, anything can happen in a contest and you can’t win if you don’t play. But the dynamics behind these numbers suggest that unless Democrats do decide to vote tactically for either of Dardenne or Angelle, Vitter wins. While pundits love to point out that within the past half-century of Louisiana gubernatorial races several times presumed favorites never gained traction and guys from the back of the pack surged to win, so far this contest shows none of these qualities. The likes of former House Speaker Hunt Downer and former Govs. Jimmie Davis and (twice) Buddy Roemer never held large leads and as high numbers as early and as consistently as Vitter now does (although polling was a bit sketchy concerning elections towards the beginning of this period). He appears unlikely to fade nor does anyone else seem likely to approach his numbers, even if (with the four projected candidates running) he does require a runoff to win.

So, if Democrats consider Vitter the most objectionable in the field, and they understand the limited upside of Edwards, they need to start gravitating towards Dardenne or Angelle, with the numbers suggesting that some already have abandoned Edwards in favor of Dardenne, both in terms of their relative polling movements and in that whites disproportionately make up the undecided vote. Concerning the latter aspect, some number of these whites may have sympathy for Edwards but can’t decide whether to stick with him as the best opponent to Vitter; the state’s senior senator has had a long and controversial career by which to polarize the electorate, so likely few within it have not formed an opinion about whether he’s their man or there’s no way they’d vote for him, and it’s only the latter category included among the undecided.

Given his larger critical mass of support, Dardenne could be the beneficiary of tactical voting among Democrats (even as he is a lifelong Republican officeholder, whereas Angelle was a Democrat until a few years ago). That could accelerate if Angelle, who has spent a lot to gain little, drops out, as most of his votes probably would end up in Dardenne’s camp, creating further incentive for tactical voting.

Future polling will verify, but it appears already some Democrats among voters polled have conceded the governor’s office, and as long as Edwards appears to make no headway or to lose more ground in subsequent surveys, at some point expect his deterioration to accelerate.



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