John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, was re-elected governor of Louisiana Saturday despite a huge effort by Donald Trump to propel the Republican nominee. There are lessons for 2020 there.
Trump made three trips to Louisiana in recent weeks — Bossier City, Monroe and Lake Charles. He’d visited a few months ago to tout his energy policy at the opening of a major natural gas facility near Lake Charles, essentially a campaign outreach to a state dependent on the energy business.
Edwards won by 40,000 votes and elements of his victory are worth noting. Edwards is anti-abortion and gun-friendly, no liberal he likes to say, though he fought for Medicaid expansion and has waged a fight with the legislature in support of gay rights. The urban-rural divide was evident. With Republican Eddie Rispone leading narrowly early in the evening, but only a tiny percentage of the vote in from Orleans Parish, I confidently predicted to my wife that Edwards would win. When it was over, Edwards prevailed in Orleans Parish 114,812 to 13,401, almost 90-10 in percentage terms. He also easily carried the two other most populous parishes — Jefferson, which is suburban New Orleans, and East Baton Rouge. Black votes helped. But note that the black vote in Orleans is only 58 percent of the population, not 90 percent. The black percentage in Jefferson Parish is only 27 percent. Edwards got 57 percent of the vote there. East Baton Rouge is split 45-45 black/white and Edwards got 66 percent of the vote. In short: Trump’s act may not be so all-powerful as Republicans in Congress seem to think.
Edwards narrowly lost my home parish of Calcasieu, thanks to heavy Republican support in the white-flight areas outside Lake Charles (pop. 77,000), but the old center of LC went blue. There’s a strong black vote there, but also a university and some residual Democratic loyalty in a city with unionized petrochemical plants and casinos chockablock with service workers. Edwards also scored big in Shreveport. My friend there says the GOTV effort was noticeable.
So these seem election indicators for Democrats in 2020: A candidate with moderate but hardly arch-conservative politics, a strong black vote and somewhat dampened enthusiasm for Trump in the suburbs. It pains me to say this doesn’t describe a path for, say, an Elizabeth Warren victory in Louisiana. Never mind hopeless Arkansas.
PS: A Walton-backed candidate was a winner in a runoff for Louisiana Board of Education, completing a sweep of contested seats by the “reform” billionaires club. The leading education blogger in the state, Mercedes Schneider, is hopeful still that Edwards’ clout can produce a change in the state education boss, a tool of reformers.
But let’s stay with the big win at the top of the ticket. It reminds me of the happy days of Edwin Edwards’ 1991 victory over racist David Duke and the bumper stickers I saw on the cars of black people in Lake Charles: “Edwin is Coming!”