With 56 seats up for grabs in the Louisiana Legislature—and the qualifying deadline more than a month away—south Baton Rouge is already seeing more women toss their hat into the election ring than usual.
Behind the push, say local political consultants, is the one-two ripple effect of 1) more women running for office nationally and 2) the influence of Emerge Louisiana, an organization recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office. Consequently, many of the local female candidates—though not all—lean left in their political positions.
While East Baton Rouge Parish has become decidedly Democrat, based on parishwide election results over the past two decades, much of suburban white Baton Rouge votes Republican. The question now is whether the shift from red to blue extends into south Baton Rouge—a predominantly white, historically conservative electorate?
It’s too early to determine, says longtime Republican political consultant Roy Fletcher, adding all candidates still need to have a message that resonates with their electorate.
Acknowledging an “unprecedented level of interest” among women in this year’s legislative races, John Couvillon, a Republican political consultant with JMC Enterprises, says there is a national trend of white-collar urban and suburban areas becoming more democratic, though he hasn’t seen the same trend play out in Baton Rouge or Louisiana as a whole.
“Potential candidates see what’s happening nationally and think it can happen here, but they’re running in rock-solid Republican turf,” says Couvillon, adding women candidates would have an advantage running as Republicans.
Several south Baton Rouge-area races, in particular, have attracted more women candidates, who see greater opportunity with the high number of vacancies.
Significantly, the District 16 Louisiana Senate seat is wide open, being vacated by Republican Dan Claitor. The seat—which represents most of south Baton Rouge, including the Baton Rouge Country Club, Perkins Road/Burbank Drive corridor and the proposed city of St. George—is among 16 open in the 39-member state senate this year. Emerge recruit Beverly Brooks Thompson has announced her center-left candidacy in the race, which also includes term-limited state Reps. Steve Carter (District 68) and Franklin Foil (District 70).
The two Baton Rouge Republicans are among those leaving 40 House seats available of the 105 total, creating more opportunities for women to run. Competing for Foil’s empty District 70 spot, for example, are LSU professor and Emerge recruit Belinda Davis, a Democrat, and Metro Council member Barbara Freiberg, a Republican, as well as the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s executive vice president, Michael DiResto, a Republican.
Once women raise enough money—roughly $50,000—and secure the support of their party, they’re a formidable force, says pollster Bernie Pinsonat, as they make up more of the population.