Senate Outlook: Three Races to Watch
How a handful of precincts in Baton Rouge could shape the state’s politics for the next decade.
[Note: A companion post about the Louisiana House of Representatives is available here.]
There are fewer moving parts to track in Louisiana Republicans’ hunt for a super-majority in the Senate than in the House. In the current term, Republicans are just one seat short of the 26 needed for a veto-proof super-majority. Whether or not they get there will depend on the outcomes of races in three districts (the 16th, 28th, and 38th).
For most districts we already know which party will hold the seat next year. Republicans have already locked up 16 seats. These are all holds, that is, seats Republicans already have in the current term that they will retain in the next term. They are all also districts Donald Trump carried. Democrats, meanwhile, have locked up eight seats – all of which are holds and districts Hillary Clinton carried.
So far in this election cycle, both parties have yet to flip a seat or make incursions into districts carried by the opposite party’s presidential nominee.
The best chances for a Republican flip are in the 28th and 38th districts
Republicans are contesting five Democratic seats. Three of those, deep in Clinton country, are probably out of reach. Instead, Republicans’ best chance to flip a senate district is in two Democratic districts that Trump carried – the 28th and 38th. Trump carried a third senate district (19th), but Republicans missed an opportunity by not running there.
These two Democratic seats in Trump country represent two different kinds of elections. The 28th may be Republicans’ best chance to flip a seat because it is both an open race (i.e., no incumbent on the ballot) and a district Trump carried by a very large margin (43 points). The 38th, meanwhile, is a district where Trump had a smaller margin (17 points) and where the Republican candidate faces an incumbent Democrat. Republicans have been more successful flipping open seats than ousting incumbents even when running on friendly turf.
Republicans have a 57 percent chance of winning one of these two seats and a 15 percent chance of winning both. The latter would almost certainly secure a super-majority in the Senate, but even the former would get them there if they hold on to their remaining nine seats.
The best chance for Democrats to flip a district is the 16th
If Democrats fail to block Republican victories in both the 28th and the 38th (something they have a 28 percent chance of doing), then they will have to flip a district to hold Republicans under 26 seats.
Unfortunately, for Democrats, their options are limited. No Republican seats are in Clinton country. They will have to win in Trump country.
Democrats are challenging only one Republican district where Trump won by less than 25 points: The 16th District. That margin means the Democratic candidate will need a significant swing if she is to flip the district. Still, two factors there should help. First, it is an open seat, which greatly increases the Democrat’s chances than if she were running against an incumbent Republican. Second, Trump under-performed relative to Mitt Romney by about eight points in the 16th. In fact, the 16th is the senate district with the largest drop in Republican vote share from 2012 to 2016. If this reticence about the contemporary Republican Party carries over into these races (which the national evidence from the 2018 midterms and the evidence from Louisiana’s post-2016 special elections both suggest), then the 16th is the Democratic Party’s best shot to flip a seat.
Interestingly, Republicans’ chances for a super-majority in the Senate could come down to the 16th District at the same time that their chances for a super-majority in the House could come down to the 70th House District. These two Baton Rouge districts overlap and share 22 precincts. Voters in this handful of precincts will weigh in on both key races and could prove to be the most influential in the 2019 election. Because a super-majority would drastically affect how the Louisiana Legislature ultimately draws district boundaries during the 2021 round of redistricting – boundaries that will be in place for a decade – the voters in these precincts could affect state politics for years to come.