On Saturday, John Bel Edwards became Louisiana’s first incumbent governor to win a runoff for a second term as well as the first Democrat in 44 years to be reelected as the state’s chief executive.
No one worked harder against Saturday’s outcome than President Donald Trump. “The president and I have left it all on the field,” declared a hopeful Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE during a Louisiana radio program the day before the election. Edwards’ GOP opponent, businessman Eddie Rispone, specifically mentioned Trump’s support in his concession speech: “By the way, can we give President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE a round of applause? That man loves America, and he loves Louisiana. He came down here three times specifically to try and help us.”
In 2016, then-candidate Trump carried the Pelican State by nearly 20 percentage points, winning 54 of the 64 parishes statewide. The election would be the high-water mark in terms of Trump’s net approval, which has seen a 19 percentage point decline since taking office according to Morning Consult, which tracks the incumbent’s popularity in every state.
Last June, The Advocate reported early signs of Trump fatigue in Louisiana highlighting a poll that showed only 47 percent of voters approving of the president’s job performance compared with 46 percent who disapproved. While that approval rating ran ahead of national trends by a few points, the same poll also found that by a “54 percent to 37 percent margin, Louisianans favored electing someone other than Trump as president.”
The June poll would foreshadow Rispone’s electoral prospects, especially the drop in GOP support in the suburbs. In the New Orleans suburbs, “Edwards won an astounding 57 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish and 40 percent of the vote in St. Tammany Parish.” The last successful Democratic Governor, Kathleen BlancoKathleen BlancoFederal presence in Portland raises alarm over takeover of states Governors get reelection boost from COVID-19 responses 2019 Louisiana governor's race spells disaster for Trump in 2020 MORE, won just 37 percent of the vote share in Jefferson and 26 percent in St. Tammany in 2003. Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman also drew attention to the serious change in the suburbs tweeting, “If anyone still doubts southern suburbs are getting bluer, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) just carried a set of NOLA suburbs where Obama got *26%* of the vote in 2008.”
There’s no question that the demographics of those specific parishes have changed over the last 16 years, but even more telling is the fact that Edwards won 24 parishes across the state, 14 more than Secretary Clinton’s take three years ago.
During the last ten days of the election, Trump made two additional campaign swings to Monroe in the north east part of the state and Bossier City, located in the north west. Unlike previous Trump rallies in other red states that have increased turnout in key geographies close to the event spaces, the opposite was true on election night. In north Louisiana, including Monroe, the democrat’s vote share actually increased by 6 percentage points between the primary and the runoff. In Bossier City, the precinct that included Trump’s rally site, Edwards went from losing 42 percent to 43 percent in 2015, to winning that same precinct by double digits.
In response to the electoral drubbings in both Louisiana and Kentucky, (with incumbent GOP Governor Matt Bevin’s loss to the state’s Democratic Attorney General, Andy Beshear), RNC spokesman Steve Guest said, “The gubernatorial results in 2019 in Kentucky and Louisiana are in no way a referendum on President Trump or a foreshadowing of the 2020 presidential election.”
The RNC has their work cut out for them in terms of deflecting blame from the president when it comes to these electoral upsets. During that Bossier City rally two days before the election, Trump specifically nationalized the governor’s race by saying, “In two days, I really need you, but you really need to send a message to the corrupt Democrats in Washington … the radical left, Democrats, is ripping our country apart. They are trying to overthrow American democracy and erase the votes of tens of millions of Americans.”
The GOP nominee, Eddie Rispone “tied himself to Trump,” campaigning on illegal immigrants and attempting to portray the incumbent Democrat as a “liberal, socialist-leaning governor.” There is no doubt that Trump will run a similar campaign against the eventual Democratic nominee — no matter who wins — but Saturday’s results should give the campaign pause when it comes to a strategy that appeals to independents and weak Republican voters.
As the speech went on in Bossier City, Trump even referenced the Kentucky loss during the same rally: “So, Trump took a loss. So you got to give me a big win, please. OK? OK?”
Trump failed to secure that “big win” in Louisiana, due in large part to Republicans and independents abandoning the president’s pick in key suburban areas. Saturday’s results should be a wake-up call to the president and his team that turning these races into a referendum on the president, even in a deep red state, is a losing strategy.
Kevin Walling (@kpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business.