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Black candidates ride Obama wave in Louisiana

By Christopher Tidmore The Louisiana Weekly | Last updated: Nov 30, 2012 - 10:39:16 AM

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

For Black 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 Black neighborhood activist LaToya Cantrell leading Caucasian Juvenile Justice activist Dana Kaplan 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. Mr. 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 Dec. 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 Mr. 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 Black 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 Black vote defeated longtime 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 Black 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 Black majority, electing Nolan Marshall.

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 Mr. 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 Nov. 6. Coattails alone should have earned Mr. 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 seemed like it could garner enough votes to, at least, get a Democrat in the runoff.

In the end, Mr. Richard didn’t receive enough votes and Mr. Boustany carried 44.7 percent of the ballots counted. 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.

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

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

In fact, as if blood was already in the water as the polls as the polls closed Nov. 6th, her likely Republican challenger, Rep. 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 $2 million in his campaign fund, available to be used for a Senate bid when Mary Landrieu comes up for re-election in 2014, it appears Rep. Cassidy was telegraphing his plans—and his belief that the senator is vulnerable.

Sen. Landrieu, though, might have a firewall in the state’s one parish that is increasingly acting like a Midwestern swing state, East Baton Rouge.

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

It is Mr. Holden who holds out hope for Louisiana Democrats, fighting in an increasingly GOP environment.