Last week, voters in two vacant Louisiana Congressional seats went to the polls to choose new Representatives. In the 5th district, Julia Letlow won easily, garnering enough votes to avoid a runoff election. The 2nd district yielded a much more interesting result, with State Senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson advancing to an April runoff. Click here for a more detailed analysis of both races, the upcoming runoff, and the future of Louisiana politics with expert John Couvillon.
The 2nd district is the only Democratic seat in Louisiana. Following major post-Katrina population loss prior to the last redistricting cycle, the seat was stretched westward to Baton Rogue. Carefully crafted by the legislature to take in as many black voters as possible, the 2nd is undoubtedly safe for whichever Democrat ultimately wins the upcoming runoff.
Those two Democrats are State Senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson. Carter, the more moderate of the two, was considered the front-runner going into the first round of voting. Having received the endorsements of former Congressman Cedric Richmond and many prominent local figures, Carter remains the favorite as we head into the runoff. Carter is also the Minority Leader of the State Senate. Fellow State Senator Carter Peterson positioned herself as one of the two main progressive contenders in the race. In addition to her Senate service, Carter Peterson has also served as Chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party and as a member of the State House.
As expected, Carter finished in first place, taking 36.4% of the vote. This figure aligned well with our prediction, which had Carter hitting a mark within the 35-40% range. Carter Peterson came in second, with 22.9%. Much to our surprise, fellow progressive Gary Chambers ended up in third place, with a healthy 21.3%. In fourth place was Republican Claston Bernard, who finished just below 10%. Bernard’s performance fell slightly below our expectations, largely due to greater than foreseen division among the Republican vote. The remaining percentage of ballots cast was split between minor Republican and Democratic candidates.
A Geographic Analysis
Above is a map of the final results in the 5th State Senate district, which is held by Carter Peterson. While Carter Peterson did perform better under the Election Day + Early Vote metric, she still fell below Carter in the districtwide total. Overall, Carter Peterson underperformed in multiple wards in Orleans Parish where she was expected to have performed better.
When you compare the racial breakdown of the Orleans Parish wards with the results seen above, you see Carter doing better in precincts with the highest concentration of black voters. As we expected, the older, more-heavily black electorate preferred the more center-left Carter over Carter Peterson in Orleans. Carter also performed well in his Senate district, which includes the heavily-black 15th Ward and portions of neighboring Jefferson Parish.
In the whiter, more-progressive precincts north of the Mississippi in a neighborhood of New Orleans known as “Uptown”, Carter struggled to compete with his two main opponents. Ultimately, Gary Chambers performed better than expected here, splitting the liberal vote and preventing Carter Peterson from winning her own Senate district. Carter won both Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
Moving west, we saw Republican Claston Bernard carry St. Charles Parish, arguably the most Republican in the district. Bernard also generally performed well the suburban communities south of New Orleans, some of the few white areas in an otherwise heavily-black seat. Carter carried St. John the Baptist, St. James, Assumption, and Ascension Parishes by stable margins.
Though he unexpectedly finished second in Orleans Parish and outperformed expectations overall, East Baton Rogue native Chambers carried only the portion of the district in Iberville Parish. Ironically, Carter Peterson carried Chambers’s home parish of East Baton Rogue.
The Gary Chambers Surge
One thing we certainly did not foresee was the election day momentum of Gary Chambers. Largely viewed as a bane on Carter Peterson’s ability to unify the progressive vote, very few could have predicted Chambers coming just 1.5 points away from making the runoff in his own right.
Where did his election day support come from? Despite underperforming expectations in his native East Baton Rogue, home to roughly 15% of the districtwide electorate, Chambers ran well throughout Orleans Parish. Chambers tore apart the progressive White vote in uptown New Orleans, ultimately preventing Carter Peterson from carrying her own Senate district and nearly hindering her from making the runoff itself.
Whether you have a favorable opinion of Mr. Chambers or not, he now has a decent electoral record to utilize in potential future elections.
The Upcoming Runoff
As analysts J. Miles Coleman and John Couvillon have often pointed out, the key to success in the upcoming runoff is securing the combined Republican vote from the first round of voting. In the map above, you can see the Carter + Republicans coalition overcoming the combined Democratic vote.
Since Carter is the more moderate of the two candidates, it is reasonable to assume he will soak up most the Republican vote from the first round, largely depending on the amount of GOP turnout. Winning the majority of this demographic would help Carter’s runoff chances, but it would not ensure his victory.
Why? Because Republicans simply might not be enthused enough to vote in a runoff without a Republican candidate present. This phenomena could limit the amount of voters returning to the polls to vote for Carter.
Starting off, we consider Carter the favorite to win the runoff.
The Results – Letlow Dominates
Julia Letlow successfully won the seat of her late husband Luke Letlow, who passed away before swearing into Congress. Letlow won all but one parish, taking an impressive 65% of the vote. Entering office, Letlow is the first ever Republican woman to represent Louisiana in Congress.