Baton Rouge, La – Two weeks ago, on an early Saturday morning, men and women clad in gold emerged from their RVs and began firing up grills and lighting pits, unpacking coolers and heating up jambalayas.
Here, under the majestic live oak and magnolia trees on the beautiful campus of Louisiana State University, more than one hundred thousand people turned out to celebrate one of Louisiana’s most sacred traditions, tailgating and football.
Hours before the number 1 ranked LSU Tigers strode on the field in Death Valley to face the Florida Gators; an even older Louisiana ritual began. Just a few miles east, a few citizens could be seen lining up outside the Louisiana Archives building to kick off the 2011 elections in Louisiana.
A rundown of some of these races is below.
Few places in the U.S. value tradition and heritage more so than Louisiana. From the state’s French and Spanish heritage to its Cajun and Creole cuisines to its own dialect in Cajun French, Louisiana and its residents embrace its colored traditions like few other places.
As such, it is especially surprising when Louisianans shed one of these traditions, especially when done rapidly. Yet last Saturday as so many fêted Louisiana football and cuisine, the state’s voters did just that. After almost a century and a half of effectively one party rule in the state by the Democratic Party, Louisiana voters will continue to surrender the state to one party rule, except this time to the Grand Ole Party.
Louisiana has seven statewide elected officials, all of which are up for election this year. Currently, Republicans hold all seven offices, and the Louisiana Democratic Party has failed to put forth a serious challenger in any of the races, even leaving four of them uncontested.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is a heavy favorite to surpass the 50% threshold in the Oct. 22 primary against nine other candidates, thereby avoiding the general election entirely due to Louisiana’s dysfunctional jungle primary system.
His main challenger is Democrat Tara Hollis, a teacher from northwest Louisiana. Ms. Hollis has essentially no chance of making the runoff or winning outright against Gov. Jindal, the popular Republican incumbent who has amassed a $10 million war chest. The race is Safe R.
The race for lieutenant governor is one of two competitive races statewide, both of which pit two Republicans against one another. This race has fast become the marquee race of the cycle. It pits Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne against Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne was elected last November in a special election to fill the seat left vacant after Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor of the City of New Orleans. Before that, he was elected in a 2006 special election to fill the vacancy at Secretary of State and was subsequently reelected in 2007 for a full term. Mr. Dardenne was also a four term state senator and East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is the challenger in the race. Plaquemines Parish is a small parish (population wise) located just south of New Orleans. It was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mr. Nungesser gained national attention for his response to the spill, appearing almost daily on cable news shows talking about the spill.
Billy Nungesser is challenging Jay Dardenne from the right, with the endorsement of the state’s junior senator and Republican kingmaker David Vitter. This endorsement is seen in some political circles as revenge against Mr. Dardenne for entertaining the idea of challenging Sen. Vitter last year in the Republican primary.
Dardenne has a history of facing Republican challenges from the right, most recently in the special election for lieutenant governor in 2010 when no less than three other significant Republican challengers, all positioned to Dardenne’s right, fought for one of the two positions in the runoff that ultimately went to Dardenne and Democrat Caroline Fayard. Mr. Dardenne also beat back a challenge from then state Republican Party Chairman Mike Francis in the 2006 special election for Secretary of State.
I would give the edge to Mr. Dardenne in the race. Mr. Nungesser has managed to upset much of the state’s Republican establishment by his challenge, and I believe Dardenne will win with a combination of the establishment wing of the Republican Party coupled with the support of Democrats, who have no candidate of their own. If I were to guess, look for Dardenne to rack up large margins in Baton Rouge, New Orleans proper and on the north shore. Mr. Nungesser should run well up north and along the coast in areas from Belle Chasse to Houma and probably all the way east to Lake Charles. Race is Lean Dardenne.
The only other statewide race to even mention is the race for Secretary of State. The current officeholder, Tom Schedler, ascended to the position after Dardenne’s election to lieutenant governor. Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives Jim Tucker is challenging Schedler.
This R vs. R affair has been far tamer than the other race. Polling shows neither are that well known across the state but gave a slight edge to Speaker Tucker. Both men are conservative Republicans, but neither comes close to being as bombastic as Mr. Nungesser. Race is Tilt Tucker.
In the legislature, the story is much the same. Democrats, whom only a year ago controlled the state senate, only fielded candidates in 17 of 39 districts. Republicans are looking to pad their majorities some and are set to do so significantly.
The marquee D vs. R races here are those for Districts 12, 19 and 28. In District 12, State Sen. Ben Nevers is running for reelection against a Tea Party backed Republican. Nevers is running in a historically Democratic area that is rapidly shifting away, one in which Sen. Landrieu lost 46-51 and President Obama lost 32-67. The district covers all of Washington Parish and parts of St. Helena, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes. I’d rate it Tossup/Tilt D.
The race in District 19 pits State Rep. Gary Smith against Garrett Monti in the district of former Senate President Joel Chaisson. This district is largely based in the River Parishes around La Place between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This race has seen heavy TV spending on both sides. This seat went 55-43 for Sen. Landrieu while going 58-41 for John McCain. It is Lean D.
Finally, District 28 sees a race between State Sen. Eric LaFleur and challenger Dr. Paul Miller. LaFleur is seen in some circles as a promising young legislator and is very much in the mold of the dying breed of Cajun Democrats. This district includes some of the heart of Cajun country, centering on Evangeline Parish and Allen Parish, with parts of Avoyelles and St Landry parishes as well. District 28 went 64-34 for Mr. McCain in 2008; however, Sen. Landrieu carried the seat narrowly, 51-47. The race is a Tossup/Tilt D.
The state house is much the same situation as the senate, although the starting point is farther back. Democrats failed to even contest a majority of seats here.