President-elect Donald Trump’s historic victory last month in the general election rocked America’s political landscape. But it was the last-in-the-nation runoff ballot, conducted quietly on Dec. 10, that shook up Louisiana’s elected class and established a few new mile markers for where our own politics are headed.
You may not have noticed the clues, given the measly 29 percent of voters who showed up to push buttons this past weekend. But there they were — flashing brightly in neon letters for political insiders and party diehards to see…
POW! John Kennedy’s election to the U.S. Senate now places him firmly in the upper echelon of Louisiana influencers, where others are already wheedling for dominance.
ZING! Clay Higgins’ ripple-making victory in the 3rd Congressional District created a wild card for Republicans and harshly took down a political brand that was not too long ago on the upswing.
BAM! East Baton Rouge Parish has been going blue for quite some time, albeit narrowly on occasion, but this cycle added new sentences to the narrative of Red Stick as Demo-land — written mostly by Mayor-elect Sharon Weston Broome’s win.
Let's start at the top of the runoff ballot, where Kennedy stands as the first of many reasons why the Louisiana Republican Party has a few question marks overhead. It was a notable success for the GOP, which has held that particular seat since 2004 when current officeholder David Vitter became the first Louisiana Republican elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.
Today, by comparison, there are a lot of Republicans in power in Louisiana. Where and how Kennedy will fit into this infrastructure will be one of the more interesting political angles that will accompany his transition. With Vitter’s coming exit, and former Gov. Bobby Jindal gone, some party faithfuls are looking for a standard-bearer to serve as kingmaker and rainmaker.
It may not be Sen.-elect Kennedy. It may not be anyone. There are numerous names to throw in the mix here, from the attorney general and lieutenant governor to your pick of congressmen. And that’s where the party may end up — having three or four heavies that can help raise money and be on standby. The worse-case scenario, of course, would be a few of those heavies all reaching for the party ring at the same time.
In Acadiana’s 3rd Congressional District, Clay Higgins leveraged his “Cajun John Wayne” persona and blunt talk for a memorable upset against Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. After running a tight third in last year’s race for governor, and amassing an impressive war chest, Angelle was favored by the political oddsmakers.
The runoff, however, saw Angelle win his home parish of St. Martin by just 109 votes and lose the entire race by 12 points. Higgins scored 56 percent to Angelle’s 44 percent — the exact same spread that put Gov. John Bel Edwards over Vitter in last year’s race for governor.
For Angelle, that complicates the logic behind the speculation of a gubernatorial run in 2019. That early field includes Edwards, who has said he will seek re-election, and possibly Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is frequently mentioned in news stories as a potential candidate. With his regional strength and base of support looking soft, Angelle will have to undergo a serious rebuilding if he wants to emerge in that contest.
Congressman-elect Higgins, meanwhile, has the opportunity to write his own story. He’s a political newcomer and, quite frankly, few people know what to expect. That makes some Republicans nervous. Will Higgins be a party player? Is he ready for prime time? What will his policy focus be? All of these questions will likely crop up in the coming wave of national media profiles that will surely be written about Higgins and his dark horse campaign.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, Democrats got to a crow a little bit to cap off a year that was dominated by Republicans. The parish elected as mayor former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome — by a healthy 52 percent. That’s the exact same percentage East Baton Rouge gave to Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the U.S. Senate runoff, Hillary Clinton on the presidential ballot and President Barack Obama in 2012.
Democrats have always focused heavily on Orleans Parish, which remains voter-rich for the party, and Caddo Parish, where Campbell actually lost by 57 votes. Baton Rouge has always been important too. But this cycle shows that Red Stick could become a blue hub that flourishes in the coming years, making it all the more important for Dems in statewide politics.
With two new congressman and a freshman U.S. senator about to be sworn in, and recent electoral trends taking root, it’s easy to see that some political dynamics in Louisiana are shifting ever so slightly. How it all ultimately shakes out will make for must-see politics in 2017. Stay tuned.