As the Democratic Party moved toward the left on the national level, the voters of Louisiana gradually turned away from these historical ties. In the last presidential election, John McCain won almost 60 percent of the state’s votes, despite losing nationally by a large margin. Louisiana was one of McCain’s best states and it’s easy to understand why. The displacement of thousands of traditionally Democratic voters after Hurricane Katrina only solidified Louisiana’s status as a red state.
Currently Louisiana’s congressional delegation has seven Republicans and only two Democrats: U.S. Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-Napoleonville) and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). In Baton Rouge, there are seven statewide elected officials and all of them are Republicans except for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and interim Lt. Governor Scott Angelle. In the upcoming race for Lt. Governor, the four leading candidates are Republicans.
In the Louisiana Legislature, Democrats still maintain a small margin, but Republicans are making gains with each election and have an opportunity to attain a majority in the next statewide election in 2011. This would mark their first legislative majority since Reconstruction.
Voter registration is still weighted toward the Democratic Party, but that is changing as more voters become Republicans or Independents. Currently, 51 percent of state voters are registered Democrats, but Republicans now comprise 26 percent and Independents and third party registrants total 23 percent. The voter registration advantage for Democrats in Louisiana has been shrinking for decades. For example, in September of 2000, 61 percent of statewide voters were registered Democrats, while only 22 percent of voters were Republicans and 17 percent were Independents or third party candidates.. In a mere ten years, the advantage for Democrats over Republicans in Louisiana has shrunk from 39 percent to only 25 percent.
Except for African Americans, new voters tend to register Republican or Independent. As older white Democratic voters die, they are being replaced by voters not as loyal to the party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. In addition, many of the older voters who are registered Democrats tend to be politically conservative and vote Republican in most state and federal elections. Independents also lean more toward the Republican Party, according to recent poll data.
All of these trends are leading toward a very uncomfortable electoral season for the Democratic Party in Louisiana. While the party still retains the loyalty of African American voters, white voters are leaving the Democrats in huge numbers.
In this upcoming election, look for all GOP candidates to link their Democrat opponents with the unpopular policies of President Obama. It has certainly worked for David Vitter who is the big favorite against Charlie Melancon in this fall’s U.S. Senate election.
Vitter’s advantage was on display in Saturday’s election. In the predominantly Democratic 2nd congressional district, turnout was an anemic seven percent of eligible voters. Throughout the state, 207,289 votes were cast and almost 50 percent were Republicans, even though only 26 percent of registered voters in Louisiana are members of the GOP.
In Louisiana and across the nation, Democrats have been unable to match the excitement level of Republican voters. Traditionally, the party in control of the White House and Congress will lose seats in mid-term election, but the turnover this year may be greater than normal. In the latest nationwide Gallup poll, Republicans lead Democrats by a 51 to 41 percent margin in the generic congressional ballot. According to the Gallup polling organization, the 10 percentage point lead is the GOP’s largest in the “history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress.”
In a conservative state like Louisiana, the challenge for Democrats is even greater. On Saturday, in the Senate primaries, more people voted for David Vitter than Charlie Melancon, even though Democrats allowed Independents to vote in their primary and approximately 75 percent of voters were eligible to participate.
In the fall elections, Democratic candidates will need to maintain the intensity and loyalty of African American voters, while trying to distance themselves as much as possible from President Obama. This political hat trick will be a difficult one to accomplish, which is why most pollsters believe this election season will be a good one for the Republican Party in the red state of Louisiana.