The East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president’s race could be shaping up into a three-person battle, with each major candidate relying on a distinct geographic base for support while still needing to reach out for crossover votes.
Political observers note there’s still time before the November primary for a surprise candidate or two to make a late entry into a field that already is growing crowded. With the entrance of two candidates last week, there are now six contenders for mayor.
But pundits and political consultants said of the field that has emerged so far, they see three seasoned politicians as the most competitive: former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, a Democrat from north Baton Rouge; Republican parish Metro Councilman John Delgado; and state Sen. Bodi White, a Republican from Central.
Others in the race are former Democratic councilman Byron Sharper, former Republican councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois and former professional football player and past Southern University Athletic Director Greg LaFleur.
Each of the major candidates is rooted in different parts of East Baton Rouge Parish, a fact observers said could play a role in the election. White has a stronghold in Central and the southern part of the parish; Broome for years represented north Baton Rouge; and Delgado represents the Southdowns neighborhood and others along Perkins Road, along with owning a number of businesses downtown.
“In that sense, you’re really talking about which part of the parish prevails, which person represents the future of this parish coming from three distinct parts of the parish,” said Robert Mann, LSU mass communication professor and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s communications director.
Rannah Gray, the political adviser who ran Mayor-President Kip Holden’s three successful campaigns, including his 2004 bid to unseat Mayor-President Bobby Simpson, said Holden had to rely on more than just black Democrats to carry him to victory. She said his campaign polled women and young professionals to find out what other votes he could draw.
“We developed our campaign strategy among reaching those constituent groups that were very favorable to him to get the crossover vote,” Gray said. She suggested other candidates do the same.
Gray said Broome might successfully find a second base of voters among white women, as Broome has been at the forefront of family issues during her time in public office.
Mann expected that Broome’s conservative stances on social issues also could make for an interesting dynamic.
“The wildcard is Sharon Broome, who, while a Democrat on some issues, this is not a person who is a radical liberal when it comes to social issues,” Mann said. “She’s probably more in line with the Christian evangelicals of this parish than even White or Delgado.”
Conversations about a lack of economic development and investment in north Baton Rouge could be a plus or a minus for Broome. Mann said they should help her because she has a track record of fighting for north Baton Rouge.
But Southern University political science professor Albert Samuels suspects that the bar might be set higher for Broome than it was for Holden, who was the city-parish’s first black mayor-president.
“Just the historic appeal of being the first black woman candidate, that may not resonate with some black voters in north Baton Rouge,” he said. He also said he expects Sharper — as another black candidate from north Baton Rouge with political experience — to nibble some votes away from Broome’s base, although he is unsure of what to expect from LaFleur.
Samuels said Delgado was smart to capitalize on political disenchantment in neighborhoods north of Florida Boulevard by pushing through an economic development zone for the area. More attention was drawn to the economic development district when Holden vetoed it, which the council then overrode.
“John recognized that he’s going to need some votes from the northern part of the parish,” Samuels said, noting that Delgado has over the years ruffled feathers of some voters in his home base of south Baton Rouge. “It’s just simple math — he’s going to have to cut into what may seem to be Sharon Broome’s natural constituency.”
Though Delgado is a Republican, he is known for taking progressive stances. He was a loud supporter of the proposed and unsuccessful “fairness ordinance” to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and he celebrated when the U.S. Supreme Court last summer declared gay marriage legal in all 50 states.
Mann and Gray expect those stances to resonate with young voters.
But finding enough footing for Delgado to win a spot in the runoff — particularly with White’s entrance into the race — could be a daunting task, observers said. White, more of a traditional conservative with much of the Republican establishment behind him, is poised to scoop up votes that may have otherwise gone to Delgado.
Both Samuels and political consultant Roy Fletcher said White’s entrance into the race this week changed its dynamic.
“It’s going to be very difficult for John Delgado, to say the least,” said Fletcher. “He’s got to find something to say that takes the rub off him or makes him a contender.”
White, on the other hand, displayed a collection of Republican election officials at his campaign announcement. Samuels said the level of support showed White is a formidable candidate.
He is expected to draw votes from Central, Zachary and south East Baton Rouge, where residents petitioned last year to form their own city of St. George, saying they felt like they weren’t getting enough investment in their communities from parish government. White supported their efforts to both create a new city and an independent school district, and he said the residents should be able to vote on it. Delgado opposed the effort.
The petition drive that would have placed the St. George incorporation effort on the ballot fell short by 71 signatures.
Mann said White will need to be careful about how he approaches the topic of St. George on the campaign trail. While the idea may have been popular in the southeastern part of the parish, Mann said its unpopularity in other areas could cost White votes if he focuses too much on the issue.
Fletcher said that though the mayor’s race has anemic levels of excitement thus far, White has generated the most rousing support.
White’s base of conservative support should help lift him, but Gray said he will still need to establish a strong grass-roots campaign and fundraising.
“He’s got to grow outside of the portion of East Baton Rouge that he represents,” Gray said. “He’ll have to look for people who philosophically feel the way he does parishwide.”