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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The "Open Primary" in Louisiana

The outcome of Louisiana’s 1991 and 1995 gubernatorial races belies the contention that the "open primary"[1] favors “moderates” or “centrists.” The 1991 runoff featured ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards (D), who had already been tried for fraud, and David Duke (R), an ex-Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The incumbent governor, Buddy Roemer, who had switched to the Republicans in March 1991, finished third; he had the endorsement of President Bush I and the national Republicans. Another Republican was backed by the state GOP, and he ran fourth.

Duke was repudiated by the Republican leaders, all of whom supported the Democrat Edwards in the runoff (a similar thing had happened in the 1990 U. S. Senate race). Many Louisianans held their noses and voted for Edwards, who won with 61 percent.

The 1995 gubernatorial runoff featured a white conservative Republican and a black liberal Democrat; now-U. S. senator Mary Landrieu, a moderate Democrat, had finished third, and ex-Gov. Roemer (R) ran fourth. Like the 1991 runoff, the 1995 runoff was not competitive, as the Republican, Mike Foster, won with some 66 percent.

The 1991 and 1995 elections are examples of how the “open primary” enables extreme candidates like Duke and Cleo Fields (’95) to reach the final election. If Louisiana had had party primaries, neither Duke nor Fields would have been on the general election ballot, as they would have been beaten in the primary (remember that, when Louisiana has party primaries, 50-plus percent is required to win).

In the 1996 race for the open U. S. Senate seat, there were five or six serious Republican candidates, and it seemed likely that they would split the GOP vote and enable two Democrats to make the runoff. At the 11th hour, the Republican leaders endorsed Woody Jenkins, who made the runoff against the Democrat Landrieu.

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[1] "Open primary" is the popular name for nonpartisan elections, in which all candidates, including independents, appear on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. "Top two" is a much more accurate name for this system, which Louisiana now uses to elect its state and local officials. The Bayou State restored party primaries for its congressional elections in 2008.

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