A Bayou Sweep

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 12, 2016 — Republicans completed the 2016 election cycle with a sweep of Saturday’s Louisiana run-off races. In the US Senate race, state Treasurer John Kennedy (R) easily defeated Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D), 61-39 percent, as expected.

State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) will replace outgoing Rep. John Fleming (R-Minden/Shreveport). He defeated Democratic attorney Marshall Jones, 65-35 percent, in a race that also contained little in the way of suspense.

Finally, in the double Republican 3rd CD, Lafayette retired police captain Clay Higgins out-polled Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle, 56-44 percent. Higgins will replace Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette) in the new Congress. Both Fleming and Boustany ran unsuccessfully for US Senate.

In the Senate race, Kennedy captured 55 of the state’s 64 parishes. The result here was never in doubt. Kennedy placed first in the Nov. 8 jungle primary, 25-17 percent over Campbell among 24 candidates. The qualifying Democratic candidate, who has run and lost before in statewide and congressional races, could never attract outside funding support, even from the national Democratic Party apparatus.

When the final accounting is compiled and made public, Campbell will have raised and spent close to $5 million, but even that fairly decent amount wasn’t enough to put him in the credibility range. For his part, Senator-Elect Kennedy will have spent in the same dollar scope.

Turnout was very low, undoubtedly due to the fact that the run-offs generated little excitement. While 1.93 million people voted in the Nov. 8 Louisiana jungle primary and national presidential election, only 884,017 ballots were cast in the statewide run-off election. Looking at drop-off rates in other Louisiana run-off years, the commensurate turnout should have been closer to 1.5 million.

The Kennedy victory makes the new Senate count 52R-46D-2I, with of course the two Independents caucusing with the Democrats. Should Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) be selected Agriculture Secretary, as is being strongly suggested, an immediate special election will be called to fill her vacancy upon confirmation. Such a situation would heavily favor the Republicans and provide them a strong opportunity of increasing their majority membership to 53.

The 3rd District race was the most interesting of the Louisiana run-offs. Police Captain Higgins, a local folk hero known for his tough-talking Crime Stopper videos, was clearly the candidate fashioning himself after Donald Trump. While the political establishment’s Angelle had been the early favorite after deciding not to pursue the Senate race upon finishing a strong third in the 2015 governor’s campaign, his advantage did not last.

When the primary ended with only a 29-26 percent Angelle margin over Higgins in a field of a dozen candidates, it appeared the run-off would be hard fought. Higgins began with a polling lead in the secondary campaign, and never relinquished first position even though he was out-spent by a 4:1 ratio. He won the race by just under 17,000 votes.

The turnout here, too, was much lower than projected. Only 138,430 individuals returned to participate in the run-off from a 3rd District presidential voting pool of 320,454. The turnout figure represented only 27 percent of the registered voter universe.

The 4th District campaign was never in doubt for Republican state Rep. Johnson. While Marshall Jones placed first in the jungle primary (28-25 percent, largely because he was the lone Democratic candidate among eight congressional contenders), it was clear Johnson had the run-off advantage because 69.8 percent of the total electorate chose a Republican candidate in the first vote.

As found in the other run-offs, the turnout only hovered in the high 20 percentile range. While 285,985 individuals voted in the jungle primary, only 133,947 returned for the run-off. Johnson outspent Jones 2:1, which was virtually his vote margin ratio, as well.

With all House races now complete, the partisan division for the new Congress will be 241R-194D, down six Republican seats from the previous session.

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