In Louisiana’s 2019 state elections, incumbency trumped partisanship. That was most obvious at the top of the ballot, as Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards won reelection despite the efforts of President Donald Trump, who won Louisiana by 20 points.
But it was also true in legislative races, as 79 of 84 incumbents who sought reelection were successful. And judging from an analysis by Mike Henderson, an assistant professor of political communication at LSU, Edwards wasn’t the only Democrat who did relatively well in Trump country, though outperforming partisan expectations didn’t often lead to victory.
Democrats flipped two Republican seats in the state House of Representatives but lost six in the House and two in the Senate. Republicans now hold two-thirds of the Senate and came only two seats short of winning a veto-proof House supermajority.
But despite their losses, Democratic candidates did better than one would expect based on the partisan lean of the districts where they ran. Henderson calculated district partisanship using the results of the last two presidential elections, with emphasis on Trump’s 2016 victory. On average, Democratic candidates over-performed expectations based on district partisanship by seven points, he found, and exceeded those expectations in 26 of 38 races contested by both parties.
The split was greatest in House districts 18 and 75, rural areas where Trump is popular that incumbent Democrats (Jeremy LaCombe and Malinda White, respectively) won by wide margins.
Democrats also did relatively well in traditionally Republican suburban districts in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. They outperformed partisan expectations in House District 105 (suburban New Orleans) by 17 points, House District 71 (suburban Baton Rouge) by 15 points, Senate District 16 (Baton Rouge) by 15 points, and House District 70 (Baton Rouge) by 9 points, Henderson says.
Democrats won only one of those four races, as Mack Cormier upset Chris Leopold in District 105. But the shift is in line with the national trend of Republicans losing ground in the suburbs, which is both troubling for the GOP and a sign of hope for downtrodden Louisiana Democrats.
Only one of the seven Democrats elected this cycle in a Trump district will be term-limited in the next cycle, Henderson notes. Two of the others will not face term limits until 2027, and the remaining four will not do so until 2031.
“As Democrats await a breakthrough in the suburbs to grow their number in the legislature, they must rely on these Democratic incumbents in rural districts to provide the bulwark against further Republican gains,” he says.