This post is first in an installment continuing to Election Day looking at competitive Senate/Gubernatorial races and examining the dynamics and county benchmarks in each state.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is no stranger to competitive races. She has been in the Senate since 1996 but has consistently faced close elections. She won by a few points in 1996, back when Louisiana voted Democratic at both a federal and statewide level. In 2002 however, she did not get 50% in the first election and due to Louisiana's jungle primary rules (all candidates regardless of party run in a primary on Election Day and if no candidate gets 50% of the vote, there is a runoff in December). Most polls show her opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) from Baton Rouge with a slight lead but turnout in Louisiana is unpredictable in runoffs so it could easily shift.
These percentages show the percentage that Landrieu needs in order to avoid a runoff and in the runoff avoid losing the seat. The vote totals are the 2010 vote totals in the Vitter/Melancon race and turnout was uniformly increased by 10%. The results were calculated using the Landrieu 2008 results (to factor in regional strengths that Landrieu has including in the New Orleans suburbs and Cajun counties in southern Louisiana) and the 2012 Presidential results (to show how current political trends have affected Louisiana voting patterns).
Here is a map of the benchmarks:
Dark Blue = Landrieu 55%+
Light Blue = Landrieu 50%-54%
Light Red = Landrieu 45%-49%
Dark Red = Landrieu 44%-
New Orleans Metropolitan Area:
This area is the most Democratic part of Louisiana. New Orleans is the major Democratic area while the suburban Parishes St. Tammany and Jefferson are strongly Republican in national elections. St. Tammany frequently votes Republican in statewide elections too, it has a strong evangelical population and is fast growing. Jefferson County is more of a swing county in close statewide elections. Landrieu won it in 2008. It has a large African American population and the white voters are not as uniformly Republican as they are throughout the rest of the South. The Landrieu family is from the New Orleans family and Landrieu will need to win over enough suburban white voters to win Jefferson County and statewide. The baselines show the importance, if Landrieu loses Jefferson County in the runoff, then she will not be Senator.
Baton Rogue Metropolitan Area:
This is the 2nd most Democratic part of Louisiana. Despite being historically Republican (East Baton Rouge Parish voted Republican in 2003 when Louisiana elected a Democratic Governor,) East Baton Rouge Parish now leans Democratic. There is a large African American population there while the suburbs are evangelical and conservative. The suburban Parishes are Ascension and Livingston. Ascension formerly was a Republican leaning county (Bush in 2000 won it by 10,) but now it is heavily Republican with Romney winning 66% there. Livingston is even more Republican, Romney won more than 80% of the vote there. The problem for Landrieu though is despite Baton Rouge's Democratic trend, Cassidy's base is in Baton Rouge. Landrieu will need a large margin out of East Baton Rouge Parish in order to offset Republican margins from Livingston and Ascension Parishes.
Baselines: (possibly 1-2 points lower because the baselines do not factor in Cassidy)
There are two divides in rural Louisiana. The northern part of the state has rural southerners similar to Arkansas and Mississippi who vote heavily Republican. The southern part though is different with Catholic French descendants and this area is called the Cajun Country. While in 2012 it voted heavily Republican (Cameron County voted 87% for Romney,) it is open to voting for statewide Democrats, especially Cajun ones. Cameron County in 2008 voted for Landrieu but even if she wins, it is highly unlikely that Cameron County will support her. The Cajun voters kept Louisiana competitive after many southern states started voting Republican but they have trended Republican recently too. Winning coalitions for Democrats years back would be winning enough African Americans and Cajuns. Landrieu's coalition now is more likely to be focused around urban areas instead of the Cajuns but they will still play an influential role. Landrieu's family has strong ties to Louisiana and the Cajuns which will help her.
"The further north you go the further south you get" is what they say about Florida, they meant the same about Louisiana. The northern part of Louisiana is the most culturally southern part with few Cajuns and mostly evangelical Protestants. The politics here are closer to Mississippi than they are to the rest of Louisiana. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) won here after voters did not want to support Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) due to his race but Landrieu and Cassidy are both white. The opening for Landrieu here though is in Caddo Parish (Sherveport) which is trending Democratic and turning out the African American voters in the counties surrounding it. The voting here is extremely racially polarized but Landrieu has traditionally made inroads in the counties around Sherveport (except Bossier which is heavily Republican) so she must win those. Also, Concordia Parish is a good Parish to watch as the bellwether.
So when you are watching Louisiana on election night, watch Jefferson Parish (Landrieu may overperform the baselines there because it is trending Democratic,) is East Baton Rouge offsetting Republican margins in Ascension and Livingston Parishes, is Landrieu keeping Republican margins low in Republican leaning southern Louisiana Parishes such as St. Martin and Calcaiseu and most importantly, is she hitting 50% in Jefferson and Concordia Parishes?
Below is the full baseline list: