Republicans positioned for small gains in Legislature

While not by much more compared to the current term, Republicans will continue to have a majority in the Legislature.

The real question is whether they can advance their lead in the upcoming runoff elections.

After the recent primary contests, 60 out of the 105 House members are Republicans thanks to two pickups. The GOP replaced Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, from House District 39 with Julie Emerson and removed term-limited Rep. Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice, in House District 41 to make room for Phillip DeVillier.

In the upper chamber there are currently 24 Republican senators out of 39 after Democrats nabbed one seat when Rep. Ledricka Johnson Thierry of Opelousas was taken out by Gerald Boudreaux in Senate District 24. Boudreaux will take over for Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas.

Republicans could take their old number back in the Senate if they can get Beth Mizell elected over Democrat Mickey Murphy in Senate District 12, which is being vacated by term-limited Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

The only other possible flip is Senate District 38, which leans slightly GOP with a majority-Democrat registration. The race pits Rep. Richie Burford, R-Stonewall, against Democrat John Milkovich.

The seat is open with term-limited Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Shreveport, moving on. Milkovich is benefitting from trial attorney cash and ground support from Evangelical boosters. He is a social conservative and has some pastors in his corner.

In the House, Republicans could end up scoring a +3 if the hotly-contested House District 32 goes their way, with Biscuit Smith challenging Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek. Like the Mizell race, there’s a lot riding on Smith’s campaign for the GOP establishment.

A source said third place finisher Zollie “Ty” Pearce, a Democrat, may be endorsing Smith soon. Hill captured Allen Parish in a major way, but the sheriff’s race is complete there and another hotly contested runoff for sheriff is still on for Smith’s turf of Beauregard, where he ran strong along with Calcasieu.

Democrats think they can create an upset with House District 103 as the trial lawyer money stacks up against Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Meraux, and props up newly-minted Democrat Casey Hunnicutt. Still, the Republican vote totaled 58 percent in this district.

SOS wants higher turnout

Will more people vote in the runoff?

It’s possible, according to Secretary of State Tom Schedler. Although it isn’t the norm, with past patterns pointing to a smaller turnout in the second leg.

There are two recent examples of turnout increasing in a gubernatorial runoff, he said. In 2003, the gubernatorial primary turnout of 50.4 percent made a tiny jump to 50.9 percent in the runoff.

Then in 1991, in the highest turnout ever recorded in Louisiana, the David Duke-Edwin Edwards race produced a 71.4 percent primary vote and increased by more than 200,000 votes to make for a 79.7 percent runoff turnout.

To debate or not to debate?

There are a few efforts underway for televised debates in the governor’s race and at least one is ready for prime time.

WVLA/Nexstar Broadcasting is putting together an unscripted gathering for Nov. 16 in Baton Rouge. State Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter have both confirmed. No word yet on whether Vitter will also agree to the planned Louisiana Public Broadcasting debate slated for Nov. 10. Edwards has said he is ready to take the stage.

The campaigns say they have also received invitations from WAFB/Raycom Media but are still working out the details. An Edwards spokesperson said they’re willing to commit to more but are waiting to see how involved the Vitter camp is willing to be.

Vitter recently told reporter Gannett’s Louisiana politics reporter Greg Hilburn, “I look forward to debating. It’s a great way to contrast our visions.”

Louisiana’s gubernatorial race goes national

The state’s political scene is being watched closely as state Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter move ever closer to a Nov. 21 runoff. And as has become the norm with our most high-profile races, many of those watchers are from outside Louisiana. Now that there are only two men standing, you can expect the trend to increase.

The national Democratic Governor’s Association has teamed up with the anti-Vitter GUMBO PAC on the soft money side and will be coordinating for independent expenditures in the race.

GUMBO PAC has already put $900,000 into a TV buy for a spot attacking Vitter with clips from primary opponents Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. The Republican Governor’s Association has also already launched its first runoff ad targeting Edwards, as part of a commercial flight it bought into during the last week of the primary.

The national political press is watching the contest closely as well. In moving the governor’s race to the “toss up” column, Cook Political Report reported recently that the Edwards-Vitter runoff is no simple formality, adding Vitter has “vulnerabilities that… carry more weight… than we would have anticipated.”

In the past few days alone, the campaigns and candidates have been included in stories in The Washington Post, National Journal, Chicago Tribune, The Hill and other publications.

Groups that play heavily in Washington and in national races are being drawn in more publicly after months of quiet participation. The Democratic-leaning American Bridge has a tracker following around Vitter with a video camera and recently posted footage to YouTube. The GOP-leaning America Rising PAC has likewise unleashed a tracker on Vitter’s opponents and recently released an issues paper on Edwards, but no video content yet aside from brief clips used in TV spots.

Plaquemine House election decided

Candidate Chad Brown, a Democrat, is now Rep.-elect Chad Brown. Instead of having to mount a runoff campaign in House District 60, which was already in the “D” column with Rep. Karen St. Germain, Brown gets an easy win. Opponent James Barker, who has no party affiliation, has withdrawn from the race. Brown, an attorney, has roots in the Department of Insurance, where he was a deputy commissioner and chief of staff until 2008. Traffic and a new Mississippi River bridge are his top priorities.

They Said It

“This is Godzilla. To slay Godzilla, you got to go directly at him. You can’t slay a dragon by chopping at his feet.”—Bradley Beychok, who managed Charlie Melancon’s Senate campaign, on Vitter, in Politico

About Jeremy Alford 160 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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