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Op-ed

No, the Louisiana election was not a warning sign for 2020. Here's why Democrats are wrong.

They're learning the wrong lessons from the race

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

To the victor go the spoils.

Democrats celebrated last night after John Bel Edwards was re-elected as governor in Louisiana—justifiably so. Not only is Edwards the sole Democratic governor in the south, his opponent, businessman Eddie Rispone, had the full backing of the White House. In fact, President Trump made three trips to Louisiana in the weeks leading up to Saturday's election to boost the GOP challenger and held a rally in Bossier City for him on Thursday.

Edwards pulled off a narrow 2.6-point victory over Rispone yesterday, and some Democratic pundits are saying this is an ominous sign for Trump and Republicans heading into the 2020 election.

Democrats are overstating the election's significance

Communication strategist Charlotte Clymer pinned the GOP's recent losses in Kentucky and Louisiana on Trump. "Let's be absolutely clear," she remarked on Twitter, "the Republican candidates in Kentucky and Louisiana had excellent chances of winning UNTIL they did rallies with Donald Trump prior to their respective elections."

Democratic pundit Chris Hale described the election result as "a stunning rebuke to Trump in the Deep South" and progressive activist Amy Siskind exclaimed "This changes everything!"

Meanwhile, Politico claimed on Twitter the Democrats' victory in the conservative state that Trump easily carried in 2016 raises "questions about his standing heading into 2020."

But does it, really?

Here's what Democrats are missing

By bulldozing over nuances and relevant facts, Democrats are overstating the significance of the election within the context of 2020. Here are at least four reasons why this race isn't a bellwether for next year:

  • Louisiana Voters said the election was not about Trump: In a pre-election poll of 1,155 likely Louisiana voters last week found that 47 percent said that President Trump was not a factor in their decision-making. Twenty-eight percent said their gubernatorial vote was in support of Trump and 18 percent said it was to express their opposition to the president. Therefore, it's difficult to extrapolate major national implications from this race.
  • It's not uncommon for Democrats to win in Louisiana: Yes, a Democrat was just re-elected as governor in a generally conservative state where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 points in 2016, but this means little as far as 2020 implications. Republican presidential candidates have won Louisiana in the past five consecutive presidential elections. During that time, the state has had four different governors with two from each party. Apparently, the fact that Edwards was already governor of Louisiana is a point that many are overlooking, including CNN which framed the election as Republicans losing a state in an article.
  • Last night's margin was the slimmest since 1979: A data point that has been ignored in the media coverage is that Edwards' three-point win last night was significantly smaller than his 12-point margin over Republican David Vitter in 2015. In fact, it was the slimmest margin for a winning gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana since 1979 when Dave Treen became the state's first Republican governor after Reconstruction.
  • Edwards is far more conservative than the average Democrat: The most glaring difference between Louisiana's gubernatorial race and the 2020 election is that every top-tier Democratic presidential candidate is far to the left of Gov. John Bel Edwards. As numerous conservatives have pointed out, Edwards, who is Catholic, signed into law this year one of the strongest pro-life laws in the country that bans abortion procedures after a fetal heartbeat has been detected—and he did so to the disapproval of progressives. In fact, every major Democratic presidential candidate opposes similar pro-life measures. Edwards is also pro-Second Amendment and enjoys a 93 percent rating from the National Rifle Association. Conversely, neither Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden nor Bernie Sanders exceed 10 percent.
Nonetheless, a win is a win, and Democrats can claim an important victory. If there was a warning sign for Republicans last night it is that Democrats appear to have made gains in suburban areas, which have been shifting away from the GOP for some time—a trend some argue has been accelerated by President Trump.

That said, it's foolish for pundits to argue that last night's results in Louisiana are signs of a coming blue wave next year. If anything, it pointed to Democrats' capacity to win in competitive states if they run moderate or conservative candidates—a lesson they are clearly ignoring and are unlikely to heed next year.

One last thing…
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