COLUMN: A post-primary postmortem

The dust is still settling from the Saturday primary election, but campaigns are already in high gear preparing for the Saturday, Nov. 16, runoff. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin breakdown of what was settled, and what’s to come.

Mayor-president

Top finisher, Republican Josh Guillory, will face off against no party candidate Carlee Alm-LaBar. Guillory, who drew financial contributions in recent weeks from top Republican donors, was particularly successful in precincts at the edges of Lafayette, as well as in Broussard, Carencro, Scott and Duson. Alm-LaBar drew her greatest support from the city of Lafayette. In all 22 majority-minority voting precincts in Lafayette, Alm-LaBar received the highest number of votes, with Democrat Carlos Harvin receiving the second highest. Harvin received 10% of the overall vote. Those 6,717 voters will be highly sought after in the runoff by both candidates. 

Republican Simone Champagne was largely successful in the Youngsville precincts, with Guillory receiving second place in that area. Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter endorsed Champagne in the first round, and his endorsement, if he chooses to make one, would be influential in the runoff.  

There are paths forward for both Guillory and Alm-LaBar. Guillory will need to make inroads within the city, while Alm-LaBar will need to gain votes in other municipalities. The Northside and surrounding unincorporated areas toward Carencro and Scott could be the pivot points. 

Governor

Also headed to a runoff is incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, facing first-time Republican candidate Eddie Rispone. In Lafayette Parish, Rispone was the third-place finisher behind U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who was neck and neck with Democrat Edwards locally. Rispone, who has quite literally styled himself as a candidate in the mold of President Donald Trump, will vie for Abraham’s votes. In 2018, in Lafayette Parish, U.S. House member Clay Higgins, another Trump-style candidate, won 51% of the vote, boding well for Rispone in this parish. Gubernatorial runoffs typically increase turnout overall. General political wisdom suggests that increased turnout is good for Democrats, but it is unclear if that will hold true in Lafayette, especially given the recent increase in Republican registrations. 

City and parish councils

Of the five city council seats, four drew candidates who had served on the consolidated council, and the results were generally friendly toward those incumbents. Liz Hebert and Nanette Cook both handily won reelection against more conservative challengers. Pat Lewis, a black Democrat running in the district with the greatest geographic change in boundary lines, is headed to a runoff against Mark Pope, a white Republican. Lewis’ chances of picking up the votes won by fellow Democrats Matt Sias Jr. and John Ford appear to be high in the majority-minority district. In the most embittered city race, sitting council member Bruce Conque lost 60/40 to conservative Republican Andy Naquin, who Conque beat by just 44 votes in a 2015 contest for Conque’s current consolidated seat. The only seat without a sitting council member, District 5, is headed to a runoff between Democrats Glenn Lazard and Janet Jackson, the second of whom received significant contributions from local Republican Party members and backers of conservative activist group Citizens for a New Louisiana. 

On the parish council, only one sitting LCG council member, Kevin Naquin, ran for office, which he easily won. Bryan Tabor won handily over Keith Kishbaugh, who had led the legal challenges against the charter amendments and made that effort a major talking point on the campaign. Districts 4 and 5 both featured newcomers, with Republican John Guillbeau and Democrat A.B. Rubin winning those seats, respectively. District 3, which covers the Youngsville and Broussard areas, will go to a runoff between sitting school board member Jeremy Hidalgo and Josh Carlson. With the budget woes facing the parish council, the relatively high number of first-time office holders will have tough choices to make in their first year. 

Given that there are runoffs in both the city and parish councils on the Northside, as well as a gubernatorial contest with an incumbent Democrat on the ballot, turnout may be higher than average in that area.

Library transfer

The proposal to move $10 million from the library fund balance to drainage and parks and recreation passed 59-41. In April 2018, the library had a failed millage renewal that fell generally along city/parish lines, with the city of Lafayette supporting the renewal and the other municipalities and unincorporated areas driving the successful opposition vote. By contrast, this proposition received wide support, even within the city of Lafayette. This is the second time Lafayette Parish has voted in favor of transferring a millage to drainage. This may suggest a new politically safe path, one that might be highly sought after by council members looking for ways to plug budget gaps without raising revenue. 

Turnout

In total, Lafayette Parish cast 66,897 votes, making overall turnout 43.7% for the parish. There was some down-ballot drop off, with 43.2% turnout in the mayor-president contest, and 40.7% for the library fund balance transfer. Compared to some recent gubernatorial primary elections, turnout was up. But Lafayette fell below the 45.3% turnout that Louisiana saw statewide. Despite high energy around the local elections, turnout did not reach the lofty predictions of 50% made by some optimistic observers in Lafayette. 

Based on the election results, both progressives and conservatives longing for an opportunity to rest on the side lines are out of luck. The ideological tenor of the runoff will only grow in the weeks ahead, as will the polarization and vitriol. For perspective, the largest block in this election was non-voters. There were 86,037 registered voters in Lafayette who chose not to participate in this election. Whether they can be successfully courted to come out on Nov. 16 remains to be seen. 

How will the governor’s runoff affect the M-P race? 

Given the involvement of President Trump in the Louisiana gubernatorial election thus far, Louisiana Republicans will continue to see pressure from the national level to concentrate on turnout efforts in November. The national Democrats were mostly absent, however. On Election Day, there was a robo-call recording from President Obama urging Democrats to turn out for Gov. Edwards, but otherwise, there was limited national interest from the Democratic Party. 

The national players in the governor’s race will have spill-over effects in Lafayette’s mayor-president race. Assuming current trends hold, this bodes well locally for Guillory. He did especially well in voting precincts at the geographic edges of the city of Lafayette and in the unincorporated parts of the parish, exactly the areas that will be targeted by state and national Republicans to increase turnout for Rispone. Guillory’s path is straightforward — link himself with Rispone and benefit from national efforts to increase Republican mobilization in those precincts.

Alm-LaBar’s campaign does not have such a direct path. Her campaign has championed her “No Party” label and attempted to cast her as a non-partisan uniter, which could complicate her ability to capitalize on the runoff energy. A mailer sent just ahead of the primary focused on her “conservative leadership,” including her work with two conservative Republican mayor-presidents, the chamber of commerce and her fiscal conservatism. Meanwhile, linking her campaign with Edwards’ reelection bid could turn off Republican voters who are up for grabs. The Louisiana Democratic Party will focus mobilization efforts for Edwards’ runoff campaign in minority communities, which turned out in lower numbers in Lafayette Parish than in the 2015 election. 

Statewide, black women are the most reliable block of voters. In Lafayette, Alm-LaBar received top vote in majority-minority precincts with Harvin coming in second. However, it’s not clear if voters who supported Harvin will participate in the runoff, and if so, whether their support will go for Alm-LaBar or Guillory. Ultimately, Alm-LaBar could benefit from Edwards’ runoff, but it will take an especially nuanced campaign effort and significant groundwork on the Northside in the coming weeks. 

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About the Author

Christie Maloyed is an associate professor of political science at UL Lafayette.

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