Although the California press is filled with stories about California’s top-two election system, no newspaper story in California has discussed how the system has worked in Louisiana. This is peculiar, because Louisiana has had 30 years of experience with top-two in congressional elections, and 37 years of experience in state elections.
The most striking observation about Louisiana’s experience with top-two in congressional elections is how it seems to insulate incumbents from being defeated. In the 30 years before Louisiana used top-two for congressional elections, seven incumbents were defeated for re-election. For the period 1948 through 1976, here is the list:
1. In 1960, Harold B. McSween of the 8th district was defeated by Earl Long in the Democratic primary (however, Earl Long subsequently died, and the Democratic Party then chose McSween to fill the vacancy).
2. In 1962, Harold B. McSween of the 8th district was defeated by Gillis W. Long in the Democratic primary.
3. In 1964, Gillis W. Long of the 8th district was defeated by Speedy O. Long in the Democratic primary.
4. In 1966, James H. Morrison of the 6th district was defeated by John R. Rarick in the Democratic primary.
5. In 1968, Edwin E. Willis of the 3rd district was defeated by Patrick T. Caffery in the Democratic primary.
6. In 1974, John R. Rarick of the 6th district was defeated by Jeff LaCaze in the Democratic primary, and then Republican nominee W. Henson Moore won the general election.
7. In 1976, Otto Passman of the 5th district was defeated by Thomas Jerry Huckaby in the Democratic primary.
Then Louisiana switched to the top-two system for Congress, and used it for all elections 1978-2006. During all those 15 elections only once was an incumbent defeated for re-election. That was in 1980, when Claude “Buddy” Leach of the 4th district was defeated by Charles “Buddy” Roemer. This compilation does not include two districts in 1992, when two incumbents were forced to run against each other due to redistricting. Obviously, when that happens, it is impossible for an incumbent not to lose.
When Louisiana went back to a partisan nomination system for Congress starting in 2008, three incumbents were defeated:
1. In 2008, William Jefferson of the 2nd district was defeated in the general election by Republican nominee Joseph Cao.
2. In 2008, Don Cazayoux of the 6th district was defeated in the general election by Republican nominee William Cassidy.
3. In 2010, Joseph Cao of the 2nd district was defeated in the general election by Democratic nominee Cedric Richmond.
Washington state has used top-two in 2008 and 2010. No incumbent member of Congress from Washington lost in either of those elections. However, in the nation as a whole, many incumbents were defeated in those years: 28 in 2008, and 62 in 2010.