Our Views: Baseline favors GOP

A very busy new election cycle begins in Louisiana this year — in fact, next month, with the Feb. 1 New Orleans mayoral and council races.

After that, though, there is the fall race for the U.S. Senate seat held for three terms by Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. As one of her leading challengers is a congressman from Baton Rouge giving up his seat, Republican Bill Cassidy, that will also mean at least one wide-open election for the U.S. House in the greater Baton Rouge area.

And after that — or perhaps before it, in terms of fundraising and politicking — there is the run-up to the 2015 races for governor, Legislature and many state and local offices.

Those races are the subject of intense activity, understandable in the races held this year but, unbelievably, almost two solid years in advance of the fall 2015 state elections.

What is clear, though, is Democrats face a rougher road ahead in a state where a GOP trend has taken hold.

The number of registered Democrats declines as the number of nonaffiliated voters grows. The rule of thumb in political circles is that many of those voters tend to vote Republican.

A decade ago, registered Democrats represented 56 percent of the state’s then 2.87 million voters. Today, the number sits at 47 percent — 1.38 million voters out of 2.9 million registrants. More than 250,000 white voters have left Democratic ranks during the past 10 years, about 150,000 since Landrieu last ran in 2008. The Democratic Party is now majority black in terms of voter registration.

However, voter registration data only tell part of the story. Louisiana has always been a state — since 1975, most elections have been the all-comers “open primary” — where party affiliation is not as determinative of voter behavior as in most states.

So it’s quite likely that many of the defectors from the Democrats were already “behavioral Republicans,” as campaign lingo describes those who have fallen away from the regular Democratic ranks over the past generation. They just had not changed registration, as for most elections party affiliation, or lack of it, is no barrier to voting in Louisiana.

At the same time, partisans of Landrieu argue she will get a considerable vote across party lines, because of long service and her role in helping communities and industries in the state during 18 years in the Senate.

Maybe so, but the baseline of voter registration does show why just about every race that Landrieu has run has been in the “toss-up” category. She’s won the toss often, but this year the baseline is tilting in a direction that suggests a more GOP-prone electorate.

An election by its nature is a volatile creature of democracy. It will be an interesting 2014 politically, that’s for sure.