Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is facing off against opponents from both political parties in Saturday’s jungle gubernatorial primary, in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run against each other. If Edwards can emerge with greater than 50% of the vote, he’ll win reelection outright. If he doesn’t, a runoff will be held in November between the two top vote getters.
Polling and other factors suggest that, despite Louisiana’s Republican lean, Edwards has a decent shot of being reelected.
Edwards won office back in 2015 on somewhat of a fluke. Polling showed him only clearly beating one Republican in a runoff, scandal-ridden David Vitter, and Vitter was the Republican who managed to secure a runoff spot alongside Edwards. Edwards was helped by then-Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal driving up the state budget deficit and provided the political environment for Edwards to win.
Still, whether he won on a fluke or not four years ago, Edwards’ 2019 polling has been fairly good. In an average of polls taken since the beginning of the month, Edwards earns 47% of the vote. Republican businessman Eddie Rispone gets 22%. Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham gets 20%. The other minor candidates are averaging 3%. That leaves Edwards just short of a majority, though an additional 8% say they are undecided.
Indeed, the big question is what happens with those undecided voters. Some of them may be undecided because they aren’t sure which of the two major Republicans to vote for. President Donald Trump held a rally in Louisiana Friday night to merely telling voters not to cast a vote for Edwards. If a disproportionate number of undecideds go to one of the Republican candidates, then Edwards will fall short of 50%.
If, however, the undecideds go proportionally toward the candidates, Edwards will clear 50% and avoid a runoff.
Even if a runoff were to occur, Edwards would start off, at worst, a 50-50 proposition to win. He’s up at least 9 points and getting to at least 50% in hypothetical one-on-ones against Abraham and Rispone in an average of polls taken this month.
Of course, the lack of multiple high profile Republicans in a runoff means that any Republican would be able to focus their attacks on Edwards. Either Abraham or Rispone wouldn’t have to be fending off the other, as they are in the primary. You can easily imagine Trump coming in for another pre-election rally ahead of the runoff, which could be more effective, as he would be endorsing one candidate instead of anti-endorsing one.
Louisiana is still a red state after all. Trump won it by 20 points in 2016 and could turn the tide in a close race.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume a red state like Louisiana wouldn’t re-elect a Democratic governor, even in the era of Trump. Voters are more likely to split the ballot if a candidate fits their state like the culturally conservative, anti-abortion, pro-gun Edwards.
Democrats have been elected or re-elected governor in red states such as Kansas, Montana and West Virginia when Trump was either on the ballot or in office. Trump won all of those states by 20 points or more in 2016. Likewise, there have been a slew of Republicans either elected or re-elected in deep blue states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont.
A simple model that doesn’t look at the polls and only at patterns that emerged from 2018 gubernatorial races suggests Edwards may actually be a slight favorite. Using the 2018 elections as a benchmark, the model looks at the relationship between the outcome of gubernatorial elections, the state’s 2016 presidential vote and whether an incumbent is running.
This simple model projects Edwards winning re-election about two-thirds of the time. Obviously, that leaves one-third of the time he doesn’t win.
That means the 2019 Louisiana gubernatorial race is well within the margin of error, and there’s still a lot to be determined in the home state of Popeye’s. Given Louisiana’s deep red lean, this is probably something Democrats don’t mind.