Louisiana's Senate Race Is Democrats' Last Hope

After that year-and-and-a-half-long slog, the 2016 elections are finally over. Now, Americans are watching the rocky transition to Donald Trump's new government. As the dust clears, the Republicans have won not only the presidency, but 240 seats in the House of Representatives (with three races still not officially called) and either 51 or 52 seats in the U.S. Senate. Now, all eyes should be on the race for Louisiana's Senate seat.

That last U.S. Senate seat, making the difference between a real Republican majority and a Senate control that requires almost perfect discipline among the party, is still undecided because of some of the strange rules of Louisiana's elections. Louisiana elects many of its offices through what is referred to as a "jungle primary" system.

Rather than running primaries in each party and running the winners of those races against each other head-to-head in November, Louisiana has all candidates seeking an office from all parties (or no party) run against each other. If one candidate wins an outright majority in that election, they win. But if no one candidate receives more than 50 percent, the top two candidates run against each other in a runoff.

On Nov. 8, Republican John Kennedy got first place with 25 percent of the vote in a field of 23, and Democrat Foster Campbell got 17.5 percent. So the two are heading to a runoff election on Dec.10.

Louisiana is very much a red state. It went to Donald Trump in the presidential race by a 58-34 margin, just as it voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George Bush twice. The Senate race is to replace David Vitter, a Republican who served two terms after being elected in 2004. Vitter endorsed Kennedy in the primary and the runoff, and he seems like the strong favorite for the seat. In the Nov. 8 election, 61 percent of Louisiana voters chose a Republican candidate, compared to just 36 percent for the full slate of Democrats. Kennedy also enters the race with much more campaign money than Campbell, and there has been little to suggest the national Democrats are interested in spending money on him.

But this kind of upset isn't completely unthinkable. Louisiana has shown itself willing to vote for Democrats in certain instances — in the 2015 runoff for the governor's mansion, Democrat John Bel Edwards beat Vitter.

Low-turnout elections at weird times can also have surprising results. In a 2010 special election to replace Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy after his death, Republican Scott Brown upset Democrat Martha Coakley to take a Senate seat in one of the country's most reliable progressive strongholds. Grassroots organizing from conservative groups outside the state was largely attributed for Brown's upset.

So, if you're a Democrat upset by Trump's victory, wondering what you can do to keep him in check, one of the last chances you could have to act before he becomes president comes in Louisiana, through donations, volunteering, and other sorts of activism. If Campbell wins a seat expected to go Republican, the GOP would have just one vote to spare on legislation, with a caucus that certainly doesn't seem lockstep in its support of Trump's agenda.