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Jeff Landry's victory marks major Republican win in Louisiana

Attorney General Jeff Landry talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 7, 2022.
Evan Vucci
Attorney General Jeff Landry talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 7, 2022.

Republican Jeff Landry will be Louisiana’s next governor after receiving more than 50% of the vote in Saturday’s primary election — eliminating the need for a runoff in November.

Landry’s election is a huge win for Louisiana Republicans, who will occupy the Governor’s Mansion for the first time in eight years and are poised to sweep most — if not all — statewide races this year.

It will likely lead to consequential changes in a state with a Democrat in its highest office, serving as a counter-balance in some cases to its Republican Legislature, since 2016.

Under Louisiana’s open primary system, the top two vote-getters would typically face off in November's general election. But that happens only if none of the candidates win more than half the vote.

Landry, who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2016, won 52% of the vote so Louisiana voters won’t see a gubernatorial race on their ballot next month. The last non-incumbent gubernatorial candidate to win outright was Republican Bobby Jindal in 2007.

At his election-night watch party in Broussard on Saturday, Landry celebrated his success, repeating a campaign slogan about making Louisiana as great as its people.

“Tonight's election says that our state is united, and it's a wake-up call,” Landry told hundreds of his supporters. “It's a message that everyone should hear loud and clear that we, the people of this state, are going to expect more out of our government from here on out.”

Just before 11 p.m. on Saturday, Landry’s main challenger, Democrat Shawn Wilson, announced at his own watch party in New Orleans that he had conceded the race and called Landry to congratulate him. By the end of the night, Wilson had pulled in 26% of the vote, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

“There are no regrets in the Wilson household,” he told his supporters as they watched the final returns trickle in, “because we made a difference in the state of Louisiana.”

Wilson told his supporters he talked to Landry in his concession call about maintaining an expansion of Medicaid that the state implemented under Gov. John Bel Edwards, and investing in education.

"It is important to pay our teachers what they need to be paid,” he said. “and educate our children the way they need to be educated."

Louisiana’s government set to return fully to Republicans

Landry’s election could lead to some significant changes in Louisiana, which has been led by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards — and a Republican Legislature — for the past eight years.

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, is a moderate who is opposed to abortion and is a gun rights advocate. But he has also used his veto power to try to hold the line on certain conservative policies, including a bill passed by the Legislature that bans gender-affirming health care for minors. After Edwards’ veto, the Legislature passed the law in a veto override session in July.

Landry said publicly that he supported the ban on gender-affirming care — and he supports the state’s abortion ban, which is one of the strictest in the nation. It bans abortion outright, with no exceptions for rape and incest, and targets providers specifically.

Last year, as state attorney general, Landry threatened to withhold state funding from the city of New Orleans when local officials said they would not enforce the abortion ban. And he joined other states’ attorneys general in seeking access to information about residents who have traveled out of state for abortion and gender-affirming care.

Landry, however, is most known for his tough-on-crime rhetoric. Addressing violent crime — especially in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport — became a centerpiece of his campaign and the theme of several of his television ads. He is a supporter of the death penalty, most recently opposing a push for clemency hearings that Edwards supported. While on the campaign trail, Landry said, if elected, he would hold a special legislative session to address crime.

It’s unclear what, exactly, would come out of such a session. But Landry has advocated for what he argues is a need for greater transparency in the criminal justice system. He supported a bill in the most recent legislative session that would have made juvenile records in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport available to the public.

And in a Louisiana Considered interview this past summer, Landry said he sees a correlation between criminal justice reforms the Legislature made in 2017 and the state’s rising violent crime rates. Those reforms, which were passed with bipartisan support, focused on reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders in an effort to lower the state’s sky-high incarceration rate. There has been no evidence that the criminal justice reforms have led to higher violent crime rates.

Landry has also said he intends to focus on improving education and the economy, noting in the same Louisiana Considered interview that the state is “on all of the bad lists” when it comes to crime, education and the economy.

Low voter turnout, defeat for Democrats

Landry launched his bid for governor more than a year ago, and he received the official endorsement of Louisiana’s Republican Party before any other Republican candidate officially entered the race. He has long been the frontrunner among the 15 other candidates whose names were on the ballot, leading them in nearly every poll. He also maintained a huge cash lead on everyone, including Shawn Wilson, the race's only major Democrat.

Adding to that difficulty for Democrats, the Secretary of State’s office estimated voter turnout in the primary election at a bleak 35.8%, and turnout was significantly down in areas that traditionally lean more Democratic — including New Orleans.

Unofficial turnout in Orleans Parish was 27% — down by more than 11% when compared to the 2019 gubernatorial primary. And a lower percentage of Orleans residents voted for Wilson this year than for Edwards in 2019.

Wilson brought in only 26% of all votes cast in the primary, despite the fact that nearly 40% of Louisiana voters are registered as Democrats.

Another challenge for Wilson, as the lone high-profile Democrat in the race, was the very nature of Louisiana’s primary, which is often referred to as a “jungle primary” because all candidates appear on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation. The system was originally put in place by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, in 1975 with the intention of making primaries easier for Democrats to win.

Under the traditional party-primary system that’s used in most states, each major party would have had their own ballot, with the winners of each facing off in the November general election. Under Saturday’s returns, Wilson — one of two Democrats in the governor’s race, and the one with the most votes — would have made it to the runoff with Landry, the Republican with the most votes.

Other candidates and other races

Independent Hunter Lundy, Democrat Danny Cole and Republicans Stephen Waguespack, John Schroder and Sharon Hewitt rounded out the remaining candidates who brought in more than 1% of the vote, each. Those candidates carried just over 20% of the vote, altogether.

Following Landry’s landslide victory, Edwards issued a statement Sunday congratulating him and promising a smooth transition of power when he takes office in January.

“My staff and I will ensure the incoming administration has every opportunity to be ready on day one,” Edwards said in the statement. “Donna and I wish Jeff and Sharon success and strength as they take on the challenging, rewarding roles of governor and first lady.”

Also on the ballot Saturday were several other statewide races for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, won outright with 66% of the vote.

The other races won’t be decided until November’s general election.

The tightest statewide race on Saturday was for secretary of state. Advancing to the runoff is Republican First Assistant Secretary of State Nancy Landry and Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup, a Baton Rouge attorney. The two women each received 19% of the vote. Republican Mike Francis came in third with 18%.

Advancing to the runoff for attorney general to replace Jeff Landry is Republican Liz Murrill, the state’s current solicitor general, and Democrat Lindsey Cheek, an attorney from New Orleans. Murrill received 45% of the vote and Cheek received 23%.

And in the race for state treasurer to replace gubernatorial candidate John Schroder, former U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican who received 44% of the vote Saturday, and Democrat Dustin Granger, a financial adviser from Lake Charles who received 32%, will face off in November.

Louisianans also voted on four constitutional amendments. All four passed.

Aubri Juhasz contributed reporting from New Orleans.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.

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