"Today's victories are the first step in rebuilding the Louisiana Democratic Party," read a statement from state party chairman Buddy Leach.
In a world without spin, the current House of Representatives comprised of 57 Republicans, 45 Democrats and three independents will change come Jan. 9 to 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents.
The difference was in expectations. Republicans expected to do better in eight runoff races against seven Democrats and one independent. They were talking sweep, but split instead.
For Democrats to hold their own could be seen as a victory, considering that Republicans controlled legislative redistricting and that GOP candidates and business PACs overwhelmingly spent more money. The greater Republican success, however, was realized over the last four years through party switches and special elections that gained them historic majorities in both houses before the campaigns began.
In the Senate, Democrats gave up two seats when only Republicans qualified to run. And, of course, the Democratic Party forfeited the statewide elections by not fielding a single viable candidate.
Sen. Vitter, buoyed by LCRM's wins in 2007 and special elections since then, set his sights on crushing the Democrats and establishing his strong influence on the next Legislature. Yet, he ran afoul of the law, the law of diminishing returns, which states that, at some point, increased effort does not yield commensurate results.
Democrats were rightly ecstatic in stopping Vitter's march, as too, quietly, were a number of Republican legislators. Yet Chairman Leach's claims of resurgence will only be validated when his party starts taking back GOP seats in special elections.
The senator saw his victory train slowing in the primary, when incumbent Democrats he targeted turned back challengers. Gov. Bobby Jindal saw that early too, when he shifted the focus of his GOP Victory Fund from legislative races to those for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, in which he far exceeded expectations.
Unlike legislative elections, BESE races were not so partisan, as most were between candidates of the same party. In one, Jindal backed an incumbent Democrat who lost to a Republican, who was endorsed by the public education coalition resisting the governor's K-12 agenda.
Rather, these were elections about ideas, and, as usually happens, the ideas backed by the most money won. For the first time, business interests spent heavily in BESE races for the purpose of giving the governor the superintendent he wants and the mandate he needs to get major education policy changes through the Legislature next year. The
Yet the unpredictability of elections made these more than about money, particularly in the two minority districts. In New Orleans-based District 2, though challenger Kira Orange Jones had far more to spend, it might not have been enough but for the spectacularly flawed candidacy of incumbent Louella Givens, with a $1.3 million tax lien and DWI arrest on her record.
More often than not, elections just come down to who people like. In Baton Rouge-based District 8, young social worker Carolyn Hill, without much money or organized support, worked hard, connected with voters and finished first in a crowded primary, then easily won the runoff with Jindal and ABC getting behind her.
Ultimately, the elections turned not on the actions of parties, PACS or even candidates, but rather those of voters, every one of whom count, even if most of them did not show. No one knows that more bitterly than Billye Burns of Monroe, who ran for state representative and lost to Marcus Hunter by three votes, 1,984-1,981, in a 15 percent turnout. Assuming those results are certified, at least she will know whom to blame, for a trip to the parish registrar's office will reveal who among her friends--now anyway--did not bother to vote.