…and its membership ought to be in open revolt at its leadership’s complete failure at ballot control this week. Democrat candidates are far less likely to win competitive races following how the fields shook out when qualifying closed than anyone might have thought, and in the major statewide races it’s hard to see how they could possibly have put a worse slate of candidates on incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ticket.
The Democrats barely protected any of their potentially vulnerable elected officials. Even Edwards finds his prospects damaged by the presence of other Democrats on the ballot for the gubernatorial primary – likely in enough strength to deny him the opportunity to get to 50 percent on October 12, which has been his strategy for victory.
Instead, Edwards might find it hard to get far past 40 percent. Two other Democrats qualified, and both are in position to exploit weaknesses in the governor’s electoral profile. Omar Dantzler, a bail bondsman from Hammond with a history of unsuccessful local campaigns, gives black Democrats a kindred candidate and an alternative to Edwards, while Vinny Mendoza, a real estate investor from Ponchatoula and a frequent opponent of Steve Scalise in congressional campaigns, has jumped into the race on a pro-choice platform. Edwards is vulnerable on the abortion issue within his base, while he’s less than solid with black voters.
Given that Gary Landrieu, who has as he’s boasted “$50 million in name identification” as the cousin of the former New Orleans mayor, was already in the race as an independent and likely to siphon off 3-5 percent of the vote that might otherwise go to Edwards, the presence of Dantzler and Mendoza puts possibly somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the vote that would otherwise go to Edwards beyond his grasp.
A party with an incumbent governor simply has to keep challengers like Dantzler and Mendoza out, and the Democrats failed to do it. The consequence of that is to all but insure a runoff in which the Republicans will be able to consolidate their vote behind either Ralph Abraham or Eddie Rispone, bring President Trump down for an endorsement and to rally the troops, and inundate the state with national money. Republicans are giddy over the developments in the governor’s race this week. Not only that, the Louisiana Democrat Party is now in a position to be endorsing a white man with a pro-life stance over a black man and a Hispanic man who is publicly pro-choice.
It gets worse.
In none of the other statewide races do the Democrats have a viable candidate. A pair of nobodies, Willie Jones of New Orleans and Rao Uppu of Prairieville, qualified for the Lt. Governor’s race against Billy Nungesser; Uppu qualified, he said, solely because nobody else had done so and he didn’t think it was fair for Nungesser to run unopposed. They’re stuck with Gwen Collins-Greenup for Secretary of State, who can’t win, and Derrick Edwards for Treasurer, who also can’t win. Several crunchy lefties qualified to run against Mike Strain for agriculture commissioner, none of whom are viable, and the Dems couldn’t find a candidate for insurance commissioner.
And perhaps worst of all in the statewide races, they let Ike Jackson, who is thoroughly unviable, qualify against Jeff Landry. This after failing to mount a real challenge against Landry, among the state officials the most effective critic of Edwards over the last four years. Instead of actually threatening the Attorney General, Jackson merely frees him up to run a quasi-gubernatorial race against Edwards with the $2.2 million he has sitting in the bank. Landry will unleash that war chest in a campaign touting the way he’s fought Edwards’ corruption (Larry Bankston) and far-left social agenda (using state contracts to give illegal protections to transgenders), and he’ll turn out thousands of infrequent Republican voters who he’s been able to energize over the years with his dynamic campaign style.
It’s a disaster they don’t realize the magnitude of. Landry was all set to be a very limited factor in this cycle; now, the man who very likely could have been the Republicans’ gubernatorial candidate will be something of a shadow candidate against Edwards and give the governor fits.
It gets worse.
The state senate races could well produce a result in which Republicans attain a supermajority of as many as 27 of the 39 seats. Right now there are at least two seats currently held by Democrats which look like losses. Eric Lafleur’s District 28 seat, which is coming open due to term limits, pits Republican Heather Cloud – the favorite in a district Donald Trump carried with 70 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election – against two Democrat state representatives in Robert Johnson and Bernard LeBas. Splitting the Democrat vote against a hand-picked GOP candidate in a Republican-leaning district is a likely disaster and holding that seat got harder because of a lack of coordination.
And then there’s what happened to John Milkovich. At one point the Shreveport Democrat was in a three-way race with Democrat-turned-independent Rodney Arbuckle, the former sheriff of DeSoto Parish, and Republican banker and business consultant Barry Milligan. Arbuckle left the race and is now helping Milligan, and meanwhile Katrina Early, a black Democrat and State Farm agent in Shreveport, has jumped in. The district is 39 percent black, and Early is going to run on how Milkovich has screwed over poor black voters by stopping legislation this year that would have lowered car insurance rates. It’s a district Trump carried with 57 percent of the vote, so between the Republican voters and the black voters the chances are awfully good that Milkovich might not even make the runoff.
By our count it looks a lot like Republicans will hold a 27-12 advantage when the Senate races are all said and done, and there will be what looks like a majority of conservatives in that body for the first time in modern memory.
Democrat losses in the House are also assured. In fact, they’ve already lost three seats by not even qualifying a Democrat to run in districts they’ve held for as long as anyone can remember. One is District 50, where Sam Jones was term limited and three Republicans and two black independents, one of whom is a conservative who would be very much at home in the GOP, are the field.
Jones’ seat isn’t the only one the Dems will definitely lose this cycle. James Armes is termed out in District 30, and three Republicans are on the ballot to replace him. Three Republicans are also the field in District 54, which was Truck Gisclair’s seat before he termed out, with no Democrats on the ballot. Johnson’s District 28 looks likely to flip to Republican, with Daryl Deshotel squaring off against a fractured field including an independent, a black Democrat and a white Democrat in a district Trump carried with 67 percent of the vote, and LeBas’ District 38 (Trump with 69 percent) pits Republican Rhonda Butler against a white Democrat and a black Democrat. Dorothy Sue Hill was termed out in District 32 (Trump with 80 percent), and Republican Dewith Carrier will be running against Hill’s husband Herman Ray Hill – who held the seat for 20 years until he was termed out in 2007 and is now running again at the ripe old age of 82.
Melinda White, whose District 75 constituents went for Trump with 64 percent of the vote, faces a stiff challenge from Republican Phillip Beddwell in another seat which is in jeopardy.
That makes seven seats held by white Democrats which appear likely to flip to Republican this fall. That comes on top of a pair of independent-held seats – District 22, in which two Republicans are running to replace Terry Brown, and District 55, where two Republicans are running to replace Dee Richard – that are already moving to GOP hands.
Republicans already held 60 seats in the House going into qualifying. With just the relatively low-hanging fruit they can get within one vote of a supermajority, and there are a couple of races a Republican might be able to pull an upset and flip a seat. In District 18, Brandon Bergeron will attempt to do what Tammy Fabre could not in this spring’s special election – knock off Jeremy Lacombe in a district Trump won with 57 percent of the vote, and in District 62 a pair of Republicans will attempt to unseat independent Roy Daryl Adams, who won a close special election earlier this year in a district Trump won with 55 percent.
There are a few pickup opportunities for the Dems in legislative seats, but not many.
In Senate District 16, the South Baton Rouge seat currently held by Dan Claitor, there is a viable Democrat in Beverly Brooks Thompson who has generated some support amid a field where Republican state representatives Franklin Foil and Steve Carter are splitting the vote. And in House District 70, three Republicans are splitting the vote while Democrat Belinda Davis, who would be an utter disaster in the legislature, could be a threat to sneak in.
But in a couple of other seats where a Democrat pickup was conceivable poor ballot discipline has ruined their opportunity. No candidate was found to challenge Ray Garofalo in District 103, which Trump won with 59 percent but frequently has close state races, and in District 94 (Trump with 55 percent), Stefanie Hilferty faces a GOP challenge from Kirk Williamson in a race Democrat Tammy Savoie might have had a chance to sneak in. The scenario there would have been that Williamson, who will run to the right of Hilferty, would combine with Savoie to squeeze Hilferty out of the runoff, but it’s not viable after black independent Saudia Marcha Broyard got into the race. District 94 is one of the whiter districts in the state – it’s actually more Hispanic (13 percent) than black (8 percent), but if Broyard even just gets the eight percent of the vote which is African-American that probably trashes Savoie’s chance of knocking one of the Republicans out of the runoff.
Democrats don’t control the majority of the vote in Louisiana, and therefore it’s paramount that they marshal their electoral resources as efficiently as possible. That was clearly not done in this cycle, and there will almost certainly be a price to be paid.
Don’t be surprised to see Democrats jumping on board with the idea of having closed party primaries in state, local and federal races next year. After the way they’ve handled the jungle primary this year and given the crucial character of the 2019 cycle where redistricting is concerned – losing as many legislative seats as they’re poised to lose puts them at the mercy of the GOP in the next round of reapportionment – they’re going to be in a mood to stop the bleeding any way they can.
Especially if those two minor candidates in the governor’s race ultimately cost that party the governor’s mansion.