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Black Candidates Ride Obama Wave in Louisiana

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By Christopher Tidmore
Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

Election 2012 showed that the Democratic Party is alive and well nationwide but still anemic in Louisiana. At least for Caucasians.

For African-American candidates in the Pelican State, Nov­ember 6, 2012 was one of the best election nights in years. Black candidates led in swing or white-majority areas through­out Louisiana—from Kip Holden’s winning a third term in Baton Rouge to African-American neighborhood activist LaToya Cantrell leading Caucasian Juvenile Justice activist Dana Kaplan the field in the Orleans District B race, 38 percent to 32 percent.

Nationally, though, Mitt Romney won fewer votes than John McCain four years ago. His showing here in Louisiana was worse as well. Romney won the Pelican State 59 percent to 40 percent , a victory of nearly 400,000 votes, down narrowly from 60 percent won by John McCain. It was only lower overall national turnout that narrowed the final vote margin between the two men — 11 percent lower in Texas and seven percent smaller in Maryland (which played a role in the victory of the same-sex marriage amendment according to exit polls.) The fewer voters narrowed the race to less than two points, rather than seven point margin Obama enjoyed in 2008.

That is in almost every state but Louisiana. Pelican State voter turnout soared higher than four years ago. Contentious races like Orleans City Council District E, where Austin Badon and James Gray head to a December 8 runoff, brought 25,000 more voters to the polls in New Orleans alone. (70 percent versus 67 percent in 2008). Those extra votes went directly to Obama, improving his 782,989 votes, or 39.93 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 to 808,496 in 2012. (The President won Orleans Parish this year by a margin of almost 75,000 votes.)

And, they played a direct role in the surprise primary victories in several white-Black Orleans contests, notably the Second District Court battles for Clerk and Constable. Darren Lombard rode higher African-American turnout to a 51 percent total, denying a much expected runoff position for Clerk of Court aspirant Adam Lambert. And, longtime Algiers Constable Ennis Grundmeyer lost his job narrowly to newcomer Edwin Shorty by just over 200 votes or 49-51 percent.

The Louisiana surge in the African-American vote defeated long-time School Board member Lourdes Moran 52-48 percent by nearly 800 votes. The victory of educational consultant Leslie Ellison, can be traced to larger turnout in the challenger’s African-American home pre­cincts in Algiers.

And, Thomas Robichaux, the first openly gay member of the Orleans School Board and its President, went down to defeat as the Ninth Ward-centered Seventh District reasserted its African-American majority, electing Nolan Marshall.

It did not matter that both of these incumbents were active supporters of returning local control to the OPSB from the RSD, and both played a vocal role in the fight to keep SUNO from merging with UNO. They could not fight the tide for Black candidates in Orleans—provided mostly by the President’s coattails.

Only Jason Coleman in OPSB District 6 and Karran Harper Royal in District 3 came up short. Both OPSB seats possess a white Majority, though. Incumbent Democrat Woody Koppel won with 67 percent in the former, yet Republican incumbent Brett Bonin went down to defeat in the latter with only 33 percent of the vote, losing to white Democrat Sarah Newell Usdin. The result telegraphed that the Obama coattails directed two-thirds of the vote to Democrats in this GOP-leaning seat (when Royal’s 10 percent is factored in as well).

The Beleaguered National GOP

President Barack Obama’s core constituencies across the United States turned out in numbers surpassing 2008—especially His­panics, even as the popular vote declined.

In key demographics, the electorate actually likely skewed more Democratic/liberal than four years ago. Caucasians declined from 74 percent in 2008 to 72 percent this year, Latinos increased from nine percent to 10 percent, African-Americans came out in roughly the same numbers despite pundits who predicted they would not — 13 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2012. Female voters went from 53 percent to 54 percent of the electorate, and low-income voters, those earning less than $50,000 per year, went from 38 percent four years ago to 41 percent last Tuesday. Perhaps most extraordinarily, younger voters increased from 18 percent to 19 percent.

Other demographic changes worked against Republicans as well. For example, single women now outnumber married women in the national electorate, and they favored Obama by roughly 30 points. The gender gap overall was bigger this year than in 2008. And, despite pundits muttering about youth dissatisfaction, those under 21 comprised more of the electorate year than in 2008, and they supported Obama.

Most commentators argued that the GOP’s hard-line stance on immigration disqualified their candidates with Hispanics. Whereas George W. Bush once carried 44 percent of the Latino vote, Mitt Romney amounted to less than 27 percent. Romney’s essential tie in Florida directly results from Obama’s strength among non-Cuban Hispanics. The same strength cost Romney both Nevada and Colorado.

Others, including some writers for the conservative National Review magazine complained that Hispanic voters generally are more left-leaning. Their embrace of “family values” involves more of a government-led social safety net than conventional eco-social conservatism. Indeed, Hispanics supported gay-marriage initiatives by solid majorities.

Regardless, for the GOP, demography may be destiny. As NBC news’ Chuck Todd put it, “Yes, the auto bailout mattered in Ohio. Sure, Hurricane Sandy helped the president. And, yes, the economy was the No. 1 issue. But make no mistake: What happened on [election day] was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces. As the Obama campaign had assumed more than a year ago, the white portion of the electorate dropped to 72 percent, and the president won just 39 percent of that vote. But he carried a whopping 93 percent of Black voters (representing 13 percent of the electorate), 71 percent of Latinos (representing 10%), and also 73 percent of Asians (3%). What’s more, despite all the predictions that youth turnout would be down, voters 18-29 made up 19 percent of last night’s voting population—up from 18 percent four years ago—and President Obama took 60 percent from that group.”

“On Monday, we wrote that demography could determine destiny. And that’s exactly what happened. While the campaign’s turnout operation deserves all the credit for getting these voters to the polls, the most significant event of this presidential contest might very well have been the 2010 census.”

Or as conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh admitted the day after the election, “We’re outnumbered.” The dilemma for the Republican Party henceforth remains that it can no longer rely on white voters to win national elections anymore, especially in presidential cycles. Indeed, according to the exit poll, 89 percent of all votes Mitt Romney won came from whites (compared with 56 percent for Obama). So the Republicans are maximizing their share with white voters; they just aren’t getting the rest.

The Beleaguered Louisiana Democratic Party

Prior to election day, conservative writer Michael Barone argued that demographic changes would not hurt Republicans. He maintained as ethnic groups grow into smaller parts of an overall electorate, they react by voting more cohesively—and eventually more conservatively—increasing their political power even as their majoritarian status is threatened.

This happened only to a limited degree in the swing states. Ethnic Whites have journeyed to the GOP, but not in sufficient numbers to carry their states for Romney or GOP Senatorial candidates that went down to defeat—Wisconsin’s Tommy Thomp­son, Pennsylvania’s Tom Smith, or Ohio’s Josh Mandel.

It has, though, clearly happened in Louisiana. Many Clinton-supporting Democrats, who swung the Pelican State into the Blue column in the 1990s, now are increasingly tending to vote for only GOP candidates. Louisi­ana’s increasing Republi­can conservatism effectively convinced senior Democrats to sit out the 2011 statewide elections, rendering an all GOP slate of state office holders.

Under the auspices of new Democratic Chair Karen Carter Peterson, however, the Demo­crats resolved to field a candidate in the 6th Congressional district race this year. The final result of that contest, however, presents some worrying signs that Demo­crats in Louisiana will have a hard time effectively competing above the parish level.

Ron Richard, at first glance, would seem a likely contender for a December runoff slot. Two sitting GOP Congressmen were competing for the conservative vote, at the same time that Barack Obama’s campaign was driving Democratic turnout on November 6. Coattails alone should have earned Richard at least a third of the vote, and promotion to a December faceoff against one of the Republicans.

Redistricting merged the seats of Reps. Jeff Landry and Charles Boustany, and they—and their surrogates—were poised to spend over $4 million defaming one another. It was Tea Party versus Mainstream GOP, but the district, a Cajun seat comprised of parts once held by Democrats Jimmie Hayes and Charlie Melancon, seemed like it could garner enough votes to, at least, get a Democrat in the runoff.

In the end, Richard received 67,058 ballots or 21.5 percent of the votes cast to Boustany’s 139,113 votes or 44.7 percent of the ballots counted and Landry’s 93,524 votes or 30 percent. In the end, the Obama surge could not provide enough coattails to carry a Congressional District both Bill Clinton and Kathleen Blanco each won comfortably.

As did Mary Landrieu. The question is, facing a GOP contender in an off-year election, where minority voters are less likely to go to the polls, has this district, and Louisiana in general, gone slightly out of her reach. And, for that matter, the reach of any Democrat.

The political math of Louisiana for decades said that for a Democrat to win, they must have an overwhelming turnout in Orleans Parish, and must carry a majority in Acadiana.

Landrieu has managed to achieve this goal, narrowly, in each of her three bids for the US Senate.

The lack of a Democrat making in the Sixth Congressional runoff, then, is a warning sign for Democrats, especially Landrieu.

In fact, as if blood was already in the water as the polls as the polls closed November 6th, her likely Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy was already emailing thank you notes to his backers—even though he faced only token opposition in his re-election to his Baton Rouge-based seat.

With two million dollars in his campaign fund, available to be used for a Senate bid when Mary Landrieu comes up for re-election in 2014, it appeared that Cassidy was telegraphing his plans—and his belief that the Senator is vulnerable.

Landrieu, though, might have a firewall in the state’s one parish that is increasingly acting like a Midwestern swing state, East Baton Rouge. Republicans win on the Council-level, but Democrats continue to dominate parishwide, as EBR continues to grow.

In fact, the most stunning victory for an African-American candidate came in this parish without a Black majority. With 60 percent of the vote, African-American Mayor Kip Holden went on to a third term as Mayor-President.

It is Holden that holds out hope for Louisiana Democrats, fighting in an increasingly GOP environment. He enjoyed a healthy lead over his most formidable opponent white Republican Council­man Mike Walker, who received 34 percent of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns.

If the theory that White voters will vote for GOP candidates above all else would prove true, Walker should have walked away with this Mayoral race. But, the EBR Council President performed way below the LAGOP’s pre-election expectations.

It gives Landrieu hope, but there is also little doubt that Holden improved his first term margin of victory, 54 percent of the vote over previous incumbent Bobby Simpson, with some help from the Obama surge.

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