BATON ROUGE — Concerned that Republicans could be close to reaching a supermajority in each chamber of the Louisiana Legislature, Democrats are making their strongest efforts to flip Republican seats in suburban districts.
The Democrats are targeting these districts because President Donald Trump carried most of them by smaller vote margins in the 2016 election than he won by in more rural areas.
Democrats are running for 27 of 86 state House or Senate seats now held by Republicans. Sixteen of those 27 districts are in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport and Lafayette or their suburban areas.
“Suddenly we’re realizing that these suburban areas outside of these big urban areas are becoming more and more Democrat, and those used to be Republican enclaves,” LSU Mass Communication professor and political historian Robert Mann said. “If it were a bluer state, you wouldn’t have to work as hard to find those voters.”
If you’re looking for Democratic voters, Mann said, “You’ve got to work harder and find little pockets. That’s why knowing that they’re more likely to be in urban and suburban areas allows you to target your efforts and not waste as much money.”
In other parts of the country, the Democrats tapped into increased support in suburban districts to win enough U.S. House seats in 2018 to take control of that chamber.
A supermajority in each chamber in Baton Rouge would mean that the Republicans held at least two-thirds of the seats.
Getting there, however, would require them to unseat some incumbents – a rare accomplishment
in Louisiana elections – and hold onto most of the seats they already have.
The Democrats also are having success in fundraising in a few, but not all, of the key Louisiana districts this fall.
Democrats’ strongest efforts are in districts like the 16th Senate District, the 70th House District in East Baton Rouge Parish and the 94th House District in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The Democrats in these three races have raised about $268,000 collectively – enough to force Republicans to take them seriously.
The campaign-donation totals in this article come from the candidates’ state filings on Oct. 2. Candidates are still raising money as Saturday’s primary election nears.
Democrat Beverly Brooks Thompson is running for the open seat in the 16th Senate District against three Republicans and one Libertarian. She has raised more than $100,000 for the effort. While the amount does not match what either of her two most prominent Republican opponents, Reps. Steve Carter and Franklin Foil, have raised, it easily puts her at the top of the list of all Democrats running in Republican Senate districts this year.
Democrat Belinda Davis has raised $84,933 in her bid to win the 70th District in the House. Her Republican opponents, Barbara Freiberg and Michael DiResto, have raised $78,000 and $55,000, respectively.
In the 94th House District, Tammy Savoie has raised $83,390 in her race against Republican incumbent Rep. Stephanie Hilferty and Republican challenger Kirk Williamson. While Hilferty has raised $92,573, almost $15,000 was from PAC donations. And Williamson has loaned his campaign more than half of its funds. Savoie has not received any loans or PAC donations.
The same pattern holds to some degree in the greater Lafayette area, where Democrats are running in House Districts 31, 39, 43 and 45. Similarly, House District 5 in the Shreveport metro area also fits the pattern.
Elsewhere, Democrats have not easily replicated these efforts.
In the 68th House District, which neighbors the 70th House District and overlaps the 16th Senate District in East Baton Rouge, Democrats have raised less than $20,000 combined, lagging well behind their Republican opponents.
“This idea that [House District 94] is so conservative at this point in time, I think is a mistake,” Savoie said. “I think I have a much better shot from the outset just because people think it’s more conservative than it is.”
Savoie said demographics have shifted in the 94th District.
“We have a lot of young professionals here,” Savoie said. “Our district is a very educated district, and they tend to be more moderate and more progressive on a lot of the social issues. The issues are on our side, the issues that people are concerned about.”
Thompson is looking beyond Democrats and trying to appeal to independent voters.
“What the growth of independent voters tells me is that people are tired of the two-party politics,” Thompson said. “People do not go all the way to the right or the left.”
While Trump and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, each received about 58 percent of the vote across all of Louisiana, Trump did worse than Romney in 14 of the 16 suburban districts that the Democrats are targeting in the current legislative races.
However, the Democrats are not the only ones making an effort in these districts. Republicans are fighting hard.
“It’s not about party,” Freiberg said. “It’s about policy [and] it’s about people and that has to be paramount.”