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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Louisiana elects first Republican governor in eight years

Louisiana witnessed the lowest voter turnout for a governor’s election in over a decade. Out of three million registered voters, 36% voted in the state’s primary. In Orleans and Jefferson Parish, less than a third of qualified voters took to the polls. (Natha)

For the last seven years, Governor John Bel Edwards has been the sole Democratic governor in the Deep South. But after this weekend’s gubernatorial election, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry emerged victorious, flipping the state from blue to red. 

Landry, a deeply conservative Republican backed by former President Donald Trump, earned a surprise outright win with 52% of the vote. Louisiana’s “jungle primary” system pits a crowded field of candidates against each other, and the top vote-getters advance to a runoff if no one receives more than 50%.

Landry’s outright win on Saturday surprised seasoned Louisiana politicians and even his own campaign staff. Polls had projected Landry would win the runoff in November and face Shawn Wilson, a Democrat and former state transportation secretary. But low turnout among Democrats only netted Wilson 26% of the vote and pushed Landry over the 50% edge. 

Conservative victory

Landry’s win will shift Louisiana rightward. In eight years as attorney general, Landry fought the Biden administration on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, pushed to stop “woke” topics from being taught in public schools, advocated against gender-affirming care for minors and defended legislative maps after Democratic lawmakers pushed to create a second Black-majority district in the state. 

He staunchly opposes abortion and has said people who disagree with him should leave Louisiana.

Landry’s victory marks the first time Republicans have held all statewide offices since Reconstruction. The conservative wins were so large that the biggest legislative fights could now pit Republican factions against each other, instead of opposing parties. 

Landry beat Wilson and a field of other candidates, including business leader Stephen Waguespack, state treasurer John Schroder and state senator Sharon Hewitt. None except Landry and Wilson reached double digits. 

Turnout low across state

Despite Edwards’ final year in the governor’s seat, Louisiana witnessed the lowest voter turnout for a governor’s election in over a decade. Out of three million registered voters, 36% voted in the state’s primary. In the state’s more liberal parishes like Orleans and Jefferson Parish, less than a third of qualified voters took to the polls.

John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge-based pollster, who was first to call the race for Landry on Saturday, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Wilson suffered due to unmotivated and immobilized Black and Democrat voters. If elected, Wilson would have been the first Black governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction.

Tulane political science professor Rosalind Cook also attributed the low turnout to Landry’s dominance. He was endorsed by the state Republican party and Trump. And, she said, Democrats failed to motivate voters behind Wilson, or any other candidate on statewide tickets. 

“There was just no effort to mobilize voters on election day, or even with early voting,” Cook said. 

Still, candidates spent considerable amounts trying to lure voters to the polls. 

According to AdImpact, Landry was the campaign’s top spender, investing over $9 million in advertisements. In September alone, Louisiana’s GOP spent $1.2 million on campaigns, an overwhelming amount compared to Democrats’ $28,000 in expenses. 

The gap in spending power also hurt Wilson’s chances, Couvillon said. 

Democrats take hit

Alongside Landry, Billy Nungesser, a Republican incumbent, was elected as lieutenant governor in the state’s primary. Landry’s win also sealed a Republican supermajority in both the state House and Senate, intensifying Louisiana’s conservative ties. 

Democrats were quick to condemn the stark losses of their party. Cook said the Democratic failure to elevate a single competitive candidate in any statewide race stems from lack of money and interest among voters, many of whom she said thought Landry’s win was guaranteed.

She said Landry’s campaign had formidable funding and an advertising strategy that targeted Black voters before the primary. Wilson, she said, struggled to mobilize Black voters, and she also linked the conservative victories to national apathy for the state. 

“The National Democratic Party has pretty much written off the state of Louisiana,” Cook said. 

What’s next?

At the cornerstone of his campaign, Landry promises to “crack down on crime” and implement conservative policies like bans on gender-affirming care and abortion, which would not allow exemptions for rape or incest. Those policies are sure to create tension with New Orleans — the state’s Democratic stronghold.

Landry’s win has already prompted shifts in higher education. After Landry was declared winner, Robert Mann, a tenured mass communication professor at Louisiana State University, announced his decision to step down after 18 years of teaching. 

Previously the communications director for the former Democratic Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, Mann has criticized Landry’s conservative stance on vaccines over X in 2021. Landry asked the university to take action and fire Mann.

Cook said Mann’s decision signals a shift in Louisiana’s higher education. Landry might pursue education cutbacks, she said, similar to how former Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration sought to cut millions from university budgets across the state. 

Landry will take office on Jan. 8. Edwards congratulated Landry this weekend and also pleaded for stronger turnout on Nov. 18. 

“I implore the people of Louisiana to turn out to vote in greater numbers in the runoff,” he said in a statement posted online. “The turnout for this year’s election was historically bad.”

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