Louisiana Redistricting: Two Safe Republican Seats in Northern Louisiana?

While the population in many parts of Louisiana has decreased significantly since Hurricane Katrina, the Northern part of the state has seen its population remain fairly constant or even grow. Yet, because Louisiana’s overall population has declined and the state will likely lose a Congressional seat in 2011 redistricting, the two Congressional districts in the Northern part of the state will have to be expanded to have larger populations. The 4th Congressional district had a very competitive election in 2010 which could suggest that it will be competitive in the future. The 5th Congressional district, while not competitive in the last few cycles, does include several counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2008. This post, the third in the series about Louisiana redistricting in 2011, will take a detailed look at the 4th and 5th districts in Northern Louisiana.

4th Congressional District-John Fleming (R)
4th Congressional District-John Fleming (R)

The 4th district is in the Northwest part of the state and includes the city of Shreveport. The district’s population has actually grown by over 8,000 since 2001 (when it was around 638,425, the approximate population number for each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001), and currently is about 647,300 people live in the district. The population of the district is 63.5% white and 34.2% African American. Currently, around 18.8% of the people in the district live below the poverty line. The district went strongly Republican in the last two Presidential elections; in 2008 John McCain received 59% of the vote–the same percentage as George W. Bush won in 2004. The district has a Cook Partisan Voter Index of +11 Republican.

Republican Dr. John Fleming is the freshman Congressman from the 4th district. He won his election in 2008 (in a December runoff)

Congressman John Fleming
Congressman John Fleming

by 350 votes. The election was very close because Democrats nominated conservative Paul Carmouche who had been the District Attorney of Caddo Parish since 1978, and he had very strong ties to the Shreveport community. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee spent around $2 million combined on the election in addition to what Fleming and Carmouche spent. Despite his close win, Fleming has not tried to portray himself as a moderate, and he is a strong conservative. On his campaign website, he says that he is a “Reagan Republican” who is “dedicated to stopping the invasion of illegal immigrants” and “abolishing the IRS.” He has been a leader in the Republican opposition to the Democratic health care reform plan. He introduced a bill that would encourage any member of Congress who voted for the public option for health care to themselves use the public option for their own health care. He has $181,000 cash on hand for 2010. Considering his close 2008 election and small amount of campaign cash, he could be a target for Democrats in 2010 if they could find the right conservative candidate. But Republicans argue that–considering the margins of victories by McCain and Bush in the district– Fleming is now safe now as an incumbent.

What could happen to the district? The district covers considerable area in the state, so it is unlikely that it will be abandoned and incorporated into other districts. However, the linedrawers will need to increase the district’s population from its current 647,300 by at least 50,000, possibly significantly more (see previous post on populations numbers per district in 2011). It would be difficult to make the district more liberal because it is surrounded by Republican leaning districts. A parish-level map of the 2008 Presidential election results in Louisiana shows that while Caddo parish in the 4th district went to Obama, McCain won most of the other parishes in the region by a reasonable margin. To make the district more competitive, the lines would have to be redrawn significantly to the East into either the current 5th district or to the Southeast into the current 7th district. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal would likely veto any such plan. The most likely outcome is for the 4th district to pick up additional population from either the 7th district in the South or the 5th district in the East, but stay a Republican district in 2012.

5th Congressional District-Rodney Alexander (R)
5th Congressional District-Rodney Alexander (R)

The 5th Congressional district is located directly to the East of the 4th district and covers the Northeastern part of the state. The population of the district has decreased by around 3,000 people since 2001 (when it was around 638,425, the approximate number of people in each Louisiana district after redistricting in 2001) and currently is 635,700. The population is 64.2% white and 34.4% African American with 21.7% of the population below the poverty line. The district gave both John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004 62% of the vote, although three counties in the district went for Barack Obama. The Cook Partisan Index has the district at +14 Republican.

Congressman Rodney Alexander
Congressman Rodney Alexander

Republican Rodney Alexander, now in his fourth term, is the longest serving member of the Louisiana delegation. He switched parties from being a Democrat in 2002 to being a Republican in 2004. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics points out that Alexander had always been a moderate Democrat who sometimes sided with Republicans, and he switched in 2004 because he did not think that he could win as a Democrat. His campaign site says that says that he is pro-life, in favor of gun rights, and a “conservative voice in Congress,” but it also highlights the importance of “bipartisan consensus.” Alexander was not challenged in 2008 (but still spent over $1 million in campaign funds). He currently has $187,200 cash on hand for 2010.

What could happen to the district? Because the district is so big, like the 4th district, it is unlikely to be absorbed or divided up into other districts. But the district will need to add more people. The 2010 Almanac of American Politics comments that “the increase in the district’s African-American population to 35% (in 2007 numbers) could pose some redistricting jeopardy for Alexander, who is white.” The Democrats in the state legislature could try to draw the 5th district into Baton Rouge, taking territory from the 6th district, as Baton Rouge is 54.2% African American and East Baton Rouge parish voted for Obama. An ideal plan for the Democrats could try to make the 5th district into a Democratic one, but that would be demographically difficult and it would face resistance from Republican legislators and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. Any effort to make the 5th district a Democratic one is limited by the need to keep New Orleans in a majority African American district. As noted in the previous post on the 2nd district, the Voting Rights Act will likely require the 2nd District (which includes New Orleans) to remain majority African American. But if Democrats could draw the lines carefully enough (and somehow avoid a veto of the plan) to keep the 2nd district Democratic and make the 5th district Democratic, it could be one of their best chances to create two Democratic seats in Louisiana–or at least one Democratic seat and a competitive seat. By contrast, Republicans are likely to suggest that the 5th district be expanded into one of the conservative districts that borders it (4th to the West, 7th to the South, 3rd to the South, or 6th to the East) in a way that does not add many new Democrats to the district. Any Republican plan to include any part of Baton Rouge would likely split the city with one or more additional districts.

Monday’s post will look at Baton Rouge’s 6th district and the 7th district to the West, which are controlled by Republicans. Having Baton Rouge within its boundaries makes the 6th district have a large Democratic base, and the district recently had a Democratic Congressman.  However, Republicans took back the seat in 2008 and will attempt to make it a solidly Republican district in the future.  Although the 7th district is currently represented by a Republican, it could potentially be redrawn to include part or all of Baton Rouge which might make it more competitive in the future.

*A few notes on statistics. Population numbers and demographic numbers (and percentages) that are listed as “current” or “2008” are from the 2008 American Community Survey by the Census while 2004 or 2005 numbers are from the 2004 and 2005 American Community Surveys respectively. While these numbers are very recent, the American Community Survey does have a larger margin of error than the traditional census conducted every 10 years. Learn more about the American Community Survey on the Census Bureau’s website.

All numbers (both demographic and campaign financial data numbers) are rounded down to the nearest hundred for simplicity.

2008 and 2004 Presidential election results for each district are from the 2010 Almanac of American Politics by the National Journal Group.

Unless otherwise noted, pictures come from each member’s official House of Representatives website.

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