The Louisiana Run Off: Vitter Versus Edwards

On October 24th, Louisiana held their election and no one of the nine candidates on the ballot reached the magical 50% threshold thus necessitating a runoff.  The Democrats are ecstatic about this result since their candidate “won” the election with 40% of the 1.1 million votes cast.  [mc_name name=’Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’V000127′ ] came in a distant second at 23% and not much higher than third place finisher, Scott Angelle, another Republican, at 19%.

What is most surprising about this result is that this was Vitter’s race to win…or lose.  Instead, he is forced into a runoff on November 21st to decide who will succeed term-limited Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.  Before we rush into panic mode, it is best to look at the results objectively in this decidedly red state.  Many parishes exceeded their average GOP vote tendency in his election mainly because there were three viable Republicans in the mix- Angelle, Vitter and Jay Dardenne.  Collectively, the GOP brand lost only eight of 64 parishes in the election.  Five of those eight are traditionally Democratic parishes, two could be considered swing and in only one Republican parish did the GOP collectively fail to garner a majority of the vote- Tangipahoa.  However, among the Republicans, Vitter took 59% of the total Republican vote in that parish.

It is difficult to predict how many Dardenne or Angelle voters will vote for Vitter, or whether they will vote for Edwards or sit it out.  Using a rather crude statistical model, this writer predicts that Vitter will prevail in the runoff with 52% of the vote versus Edwards.

There were warning signs leading up to this election and no one predicted that anyone would win outright, but that it would take a runoff.  One poll shows that 47% of voters who cast a ballot for another Republican in the jungle primary held on October 24th intend to vote for Edwards in the runoff, not Vitter.  That is a ridiculous number which if true would give Edwards a 17 point win over Vitter in the runoff.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say those figures are correct in the traditionally Democratic parishes and in swing parishes.  What would then be the results?  Vitter would still win although by a considerably more slim margin with 50.6% of the vote with 49.4% for Edwards, or a 12,100 vote difference.  It is one thing to tell a pollster something and quite another scenario once one is in the voting booth, especially two days after an election and your man “lost.”

We have seen these scenarios before.  Weighing Vitter down is that he is a sitting member of a very unpopular Congress.  In previous years, we saw McConnell and Sanford face similar lines of attack and similar dynamics only to see GOP victories in Kentucky and South Carolina.  Also, the runoff is unlike the jungle primary.  Edwards had absolutely no opposition whereas Vitter had to attack Angelle and Dardenne and he did almost equally.  Now that they are out of the way, attention could be paid towards Edwards by linking the Democrat to Obama and his policies which remain highly unpopular in the South and especially Louisiana.

Edwards need to convince those Republicans who did not vote for Vitter to look beyond party labels.  In Louisiana, that is a difficult task for any Democrat.  After all, Vitter won reelection to the Senate with ethical garbage hanging over his head some of which was trotted back out in this year’s jungle primary campaign.  Democrats are relying on a single, ridiculous poll to get their hopes up.  It is highly doubtful that 47% of the Angelle/Dardenne voters will look beyond party labels.

Regardless, this was Vitter’s race to win and the fact he faces a runoff after a crowded field jungle primary against an insurgent Democrat indicates that he was perhaps not the best GOP candidate after all.  If Vitter wins, he needs to visit his nearest church and say a small prayer because for such a “sure thing,” the best prognostication indicates a close finish.