By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The partisan frontline of Louisiana’s legislative runoff elections centers on the state House of Representatives, where Republicans are within striking distance of gaining a veto-proof, two-thirds supermajority.
The GOP already has reached that benchmark in the Senate for the new term that begins in January, after capturing two Senate seats in the October primary election that had been held by Democrats. With those gains, Republicans are assured 26 of the Senate’s 39 seats.
Seven contested House seats in the Nov. 16 runoff will determine whether Republicans in the lower chamber also will reach a supermajority, 70 of 105 seats.
Securing two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate means if the GOP votes as a bloc, its members could override a gubernatorial veto and could make certain budget and tax decisions without working with Democrats.
The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority — led by Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — helped flip the two state Senate seats to the GOP and is now working toward that veto-proof majority in the House.
Landry said the Senate elections will lead to “one of the most conservative legislatures in the country.” He had criticized the current GOP-led Senate as packed with too many moderates willing to work with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is running for a second term on the November ballot.
“This election gave us the first opportunity to go in and put in place true Republicans, conservatives,” Landry said.
The PAC won most of the seats it targeted in the primary, including four House seats held by white Democrats who were term-limited.
In the runoff, the organization is backing eight GOP contenders for the House, including four in competitions that will help decide whether Republicans reach the two-thirds benchmark. For example, the PAC is supporting Republican incumbent Chris Leopold of Plaquemines Parish against a Democratic challenger and trying to replace independent Roy Daryl Adams of East Feliciana Parish with a Republican.
Landry said the PAC’s initial focus was to build a new Senate configuration that’s less moderate. After winning many of those races without a runoff, “that gave us the ability to reposition ourselves and look at other (House) races that were equally important to us and we just didn’t have the bandwidth to address in the first go-round,” he said.
The Louisiana Democratic Party is working to keep Republicans from reaching their goal, offering Democratic legislative candidates assistance with voter data, fundraising emails and texting platforms, said Stephen Handwerk, party executive director.
Though the party already has lost two Senate seats and four House seats, Handwerk said Democrats see possible opportunities to flip a New Orleans-based House seat held by Republican Stephanie Hilferty and a vacant Baton Rouge-based House seat, among others.
“I’m of course incredibly disappointed that we lost the seats. I’m disappointed with candidate recruitment. We all should have done better,” Handwerk said. “But we still have some strong candidates, and we have some very good opportunities to pick up seats.”
Twenty-four House seats are on the November ballot. But 16 of those competitions are between candidates of the same party. Of the remaining eight seats, Republicans are competing in seven — and need to win each one to reach the 70-member supermajority.
The partisan makeup of the Senate was largely settled in the primary.
While five Senate seats are on the runoff ballot, all but one of the competitions is between members of the same party. The tossup Senate contest is the Baton Rouge-based race between Beverly Brooks Thompson, a Democrat, and Franklin Foil, a Republican.
The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority also is working to oust GOP incumbent Sen. Ryan Gatti of Bossier Parish, arguing he isn’t conservative enough.