Both parties claim victories Saturday

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Republican groups trying to substantially widen their margin of support in the state House fell short in this weekend’s elections, while white Democrats showed they could still win legislative races in Louisiana despite growing trends to the GOP.

Depending on where they started counting and how they calculated victory, both Republicans and Democrats were declaring triumph in the outcomes of Saturday’s runoffs, where about one in five eligible voters cast ballots.

Democrats noted they’ll retain the same number of House seats after the elections, despite widespread expectations earlier in the fall that they would lose several posts. They also held on though Republican leaders such as U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state GOP spent millions to gain seats.

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“It was a great night and a great cycle for us,” said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, head of the House Democratic caucus. “And that despite the fact that we were outspent three-to-one and despite nasty, Washington-style politics led by David Vitter.”

However, Republicans can point to their greatly increased clout in the House and Senate in the last few years. The GOP will maintain its majorities in both chambers when the new term begins in January and have boosted their numbers further with party switches earlier this year and in October’s primary.

Vitter, who led the fundraising and campaign efforts of his Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, said the organization has “produced the most conservative reform legislators ever elected in Louisiana.”

Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Buddy Leach claimed Saturday’s elections were a first step in rebuilding the party in Louisiana, but Democrats are far short of where they were at the start of the current term.

The Senate will have 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats for the new term, compared to 16 Republicans and 23 Democrats in 2008.

The House will have 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents in January, the same number as now — but a difference from the 50 Republicans, 52 Democrats and three independents from four years earlier.

The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority targeted many more seats than it flipped, winning only half the seats it sought in Saturday’s election and seeing two of its GOP incumbents ousted on top of defeats in several targeted seats in October’s primary.

Democrats held onto open seats that they had held going into the election.

“We’ve actually demonstrated that white Democrats can win in Louisiana,” Edwards said.

Republicans Reps. Billy Chandler of Dry Prong and Rick Nowlin of Natchitoches lost re-election bids, along with Democratic Sen. Lydia Jackson of Shreveport and Rep. Rickey Hardy of Lafayette. Chandler and Nowlin lost to non-Republicans, while Jackson and Hardy lost to other Democrats.

Only one of three former senators seeking to return to the Senate was successful Saturday. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, is heading back to the job he held for two decades until 2004, after defeating Jackson.

In southwest and south central Louisiana, the current officeholders easily retained their positions.

Republican James David Cain of Dry Creek couldn’t force Republican Sen. John Smith of Leesville out of the seat Cain held before term limits kept him from a re-election bid four years ago. Jindal ran ads against Cain, hoping to keep Smith in his position.

Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins Sr., a Democrat, was defeated in his bid to get back the Senate seat he held for 25 years, losing to incumbent Sen. Elbert Guillory, a Democrat backed by Vitter a “conservative reform choice in his election.”

While Democrats and Republicans haggled over what the runoffs meant, Jindal spent Monday celebrating the outcome of the races for state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. With Saturday’s runoffs, the governor appears to have enough supporters on BESE to get his pick for state education superintendent chosen by the board and to get backing for his education policy agenda.

“Saturday’s results were a signal to parents and educators that help is on the way,” Jindal said.

The governor has yet to detail his education agenda for the upcoming term, except to say that it will involve strengthening support for charter schools, expanding school choice for students in failing schools and continuing a shift toward teacher evaluations tied to student test scores.

Those goals are at odds with teacher unions and other public school leadership organizations, who backed the three losing candidates Saturday.



Election results are available at: