Right now Louisianans are focused on the New Orleans Saints’ porous offensive line, LSU running back Leonard Fournette’s recovery from an ankle injury, and hurling invectives at any politician who dares suggest that the famed Cajun Navy should be regulated by the state legislature.
The race to succeed retiring US Senator David Vitter is nowhere on their radar. Though storm system Invest 99L that is lingering around the Hispaniola is.
Voters in the Bayou State won’t start paying attention until after Labor Day, once football season begins and the peak of storm season passes.
Candidates have been using this time to raise money, enhance their grassroots operation, and nail down endorsements from organizations and prominent politicians.
Some have had more luck with one than the other.
There are two important dynamics to take into consideration with Louisiana US Senate elections during a presidential year.
First, presidential elections draw the most voters of any election in a four year political cycle. This favors candidates with strong name id.
Secondly, as was the case in 2004 and 2008, Democratic US Senate candidates attract more votes than their presidential nominee. Or put another way, there’s a sizable number of Louisiana voters who split the ticket, to the detriment of the GOP US Senate candidate.
For example, in 2004 President George W. Bush received 57% of the vote statewide while Republican US Senate candidate David Vitter garnered 51%. The three Democratic candidates for US Senate that year received 48%, picking up 6 points over Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
In 2008, Republican US Senator John McCain outperformed Bush, racking up 59% while his opponent Barack Obama received 40%- the lowest share for a Democrat in Louisiana since Fritz Mondale ended up on the wrong side of a landslide.
However the same day McCain ran up the score on Obama, incumbent US Senator Mary Landrieu was re-elected with 52%- leaping 12 points ahead of her fellow Democrat.
In 2012, Obama managed to improve his share of the Louisiana vote to 41%.
Though Hillary Clinton is not expected to carry Louisiana this November, it would be reasonable to assume that the wife of a man who carried the Pelican State twice in the 1990s won’t fare worse than Obama’s 41% and could up with 43 or 44%.
If Clinton finishes in that range, it could be very problematic for Republicans.
As split ticket voting by the Louisiana electorate in presidential and US Senate generally hurts the GOP, a minimum of 45% of the votes cast in the US Senate race could be for Democrats.
There are a whopping 24 candidates that will be listed on the ballot for US Senator in November: 9 Republicans, 7 Democrats, 2 Libertarians, 5 unaffiliated, and 1 listed as “other”.
However 7 of those 9 Republicans have a high public profile and/or are actively raising money.
On the Democratic side, only 3 of their 7 are spending money with a fourth being a nuisance candidate with a prominent political surname.
Assuming the ticket-split trend continues in 2016, 7 Republican US Senate candidates are competing for a piece of the GOP’s 55% vote share while only “3.5” Democrats are battling for their 45%.
And it gets even more complicated for Republicans as “independent” Troy Hebert is running as an avowed Trump ticket candidate, so his support will be coming out of the Republican side of the electoral ledger more so than the Democrats.
While the Democratic vote pot is smaller, it will be divided by fewer serious candidates, two to be precise, while there are four major Republican candidates hustling for a projected vote share that is only 10 points larger.
If the two Democrats prove to be evenly matched in support, it is very possible that they could lock up both runoff spots if no Republican emerges from the pack. This represents the Democrats’ only hope of picking off Louisiana’s US Senate seat.
Republicans are taking solace in polls showing that a member of their party has lead every survey thus far conducted, however the polls are going to shift significantly once the candidates “strap their pads and helmets on” and partisan inclinations begin to take precedent over name recognition.
Republican Party leaders would be wise to closely monitor tracking polls after Labor Day to pick up on this inevitable “realignment” and be prepared to take some kind of action if the foundation for an all-Democratic runoff emerges in early October.
As was the case with last year’s gubernatorial election, Democrats can only win if Republicans allow it to happen.