Early-Voting Stats Look Bad for Mary Landrieu

To win, she’ll need black voters to show up to vote on Saturday.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks during a press conference to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. The act would ensure equal payment for equal work for both women and men. 
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Scott Bland
Dec. 1, 2014, 4:36 p.m.

Louisi­ana’s Sen­ate run­off is Sat­urday, but voters have already been cast­ing bal­lots, and the early re­turns look ugly for Mary Landrieu.

Early-vot­ing rates are down across the board, in al­most every demo­graph­ic group and al­most every par­ish, com­pared with the early-vot­ing peri­od be­fore the Novem­ber all-party primary. But that de­cline has been most acute among groups the Demo­crat in­cum­bent needs if she is to pull off a vic­tory against chal­lenger Bill Cas­sidy.

With Landrieu’s Sen­ate ca­reer on the line, wo­men, re­gistered Demo­crats, and es­pe­cially Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans were more likely than oth­ers to drop out of the run­off’s early elect­or­ate, ac­cord­ing to vot­ing stat­ist­ics re­leased by the Louisi­ana sec­ret­ary of state.

Cer­tainly, early votes are just that — early. The bulk of Louisi­ana’s bal­lots will come in on Sat­urday, and Landrieu’s cam­paign ar­gues that those res­ults will help. But at this point, she would need an enorm­ous shift to over­come her early-vote de­fi­cit.

Just over 221,000 people cast early bal­lots for the run­off, com­pared with more than 245,000 who voted early be­fore the Novem­ber primary. But more Re­pub­lic­ans ac­tu­ally turned out early this time, while 18 per­cent few­er Demo­crats cast early bal­lots. Sev­en per­cent few­er men have already voted, but wo­men’s early votes have dropped off even more, with a 12 per­cent de­cline.

By far the most troub­ling demo­graph­ic for Landrieu is the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate. While wo­men are more likely than men to vote Demo­crat­ic, and re­gistered party mem­bers are also re­li­able sup­port­ers for their own party, race may be the starkest di­vid­ing line in Louisi­ana polit­ics. Landrieu won 94 per­cent of the black vote in the Novem­ber primary, ac­cord­ing to the exit poll, while she only car­ried 18 per­cent of white voters.

That makes the 24 per­cent drop in early Afric­an-Amer­ic­an turnout com­pared with the Novem­ber primary a blar­ing warn­ing siren for Louisi­ana Demo­crats — es­pe­cially giv­en that the white early vote has barely fallen — only 3 per­cent — com­pared with the primary. Al­most the en­tire drop in early turnout between the two elec­tions is be­cause few­er Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans showed up early this time.

Landrieu spokes­man Mat­thew Lehner cau­tioned against draw­ing con­clu­sions from early-vot­ing stat­ist­ics. “Landrieu won in 2002 by driv­ing up sup­port on Elec­tion Day in New Or­leans, es­pe­cially in the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity.”

Louisi­ana’s tra­di­tion­al run­off on Sat­urday rather than Tues­day could help Landrieu boost turnout among key groups, Demo­crats ar­gue. That would get her to a start­ing point — an elect­or­ate that’s at least 30 per­cent Afric­an-Amer­ic­an — from which she could be com­pet­it­ive. That was the turnout rate in Novem­ber, but the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an share of the vote ac­tu­ally de­clined slightly among the full Novem­ber elect­or­ate com­pared with the primary’s early-vot­ing peri­od. This time, Landrieu’s cam­paign has to hope the op­pos­ite hap­pens.

The real hurdle for the Demo­crat is that she also needs to boost the share of white voters who sup­port her in­stead of the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate in the run­off, a tough­er as­sign­ment. Landrieu’s camp, ad­mit­ting it’s “run­ning from be­hind,” says a string of re­cent stor­ies about Cas­sidy’s in­come from Louisi­ana State Uni­versity — rais­ing ques­tions about the hours he was billing the school, where he taught med­ic­al stu­dents part-time while serving in Con­gress — could dam­age him with voters late.

“While we are run­ning from be­hind, Dr. Double Dip Bill and his payroll-pad­ding has shif­ted the mo­mentum to us,” Lehner said. “We are on the of­fense. The ques­tion is, can we turn out our voters? If 1996 and 2002 are any guide, we can and will.”

Con­sid­er­ing Demo­crats’ col­lapsing per­form­ance with white work­ing-class voters, though, 1996 and 2002 feel like more than a dec­ade or two ago. And the party’s shrink­ing share of the early black vote just com­pounds the prob­lem.

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