Not a single cash-throwing monkey has appeared on TV so far.
The last time the mayorship of East Baton Rouge Parish changed hands, a political action committee supporting Kip Holden aired ads comparing incumbent Bobby Simpson's spending in office to a simian's. Holden went on to win 54 percent of the vote and has remained in office for twelve years, although he must step down this year because of term limits.
The current race between Democrat Sharon Weston Broome and Republican Bodi White has been tame in comparison.
Both have pitched a few brushbacks —White began labeling Broome as soft on crime, against school choice and loose with government funds the night the pair advanced to the runoff, though the accusations were vague. A PAC supporting his campaign has produced an attack ad, but hasn't disseminated it widely.
Broome, for her part, has criticized White for his involvement in the St. George incorporation effort and brought it up during their first runoff debate before the Baton Rouge Press Club. When White announced he only planned on attending three runoff debates, Broome's campaign sent out a press release saying "it is clear that Bodi is not interested in having meaningful and timely discussions about the future of this parish with voters."
During the first mayoral debate since the field narrowed to two candidates, the most signifi…
But on the whole, neither campaign has aggressively besmirched the other. For comparison, John Kennedy has declined to participate in any debates in the run-off for a Louisiana U.S. Senate seat, and his competitor Foster Campbell has called him "pitiful" and "so weak."
But political experts warn that the timbre of the mayoral race could change in the run-up to Election Day on Dec. 10.
A turn toward the negative might not be all bad, they say. Those messages can drill down into policy, explained LSU political science and mass communications professor Martin Johnson.
Who is the front-runner in the race for mayor-president? That depends.
In a local race, in which voters may be less familiar with the candidates and their positions, some antagonistic ads may help the public draw distinctions between the two, noted LSU political communication professor Kathleen Searles.
Plus, negative ads are effective.
East Baton Rouge is fairly evenly split between Democratic and Republican voters, noted LSU political science professor Robert Hogan. As such, candidates will have to win over those few "persuadables" in between, and going negative could sway them. LSU Communications professor Robert Mann estimated that they make up only five to ten percent of the parish electorate — only a few thousand voters.
Sometimes candidates may try to go after their opponents early to define them before they have a chance to brand themselves, said Mann, a former veteran staffer of several state Democratic politicians. But that hasn't happened in this race, perhaps because White and Broome are already fairly well-known, he said.
So the experts are anticipating the candidates to go on the offensive more as Election Day approaches. There's simply less political cost in going after an opponent right before voters head to the polls, Searles said.
Mann remarked that it may be wise for candidates to hold onto their money until after Thanksgiving, both to give voters a chance to catch their breath after the November races and to flood them with messaging after they're back from the holiday.
Candidates will also have to whip up their bases, though experts were unsure what kind of turnout to expect Dec. 10. Typically a U.S. Senate race would drive voters to the polls, but the current contest hasn't captured a lot of interest, Hogan remarked.
"Honestly I have no idea" what kind of turnout to expect, he said.
Political observers are particularly curious to see how Broome will respond to an ad released online by Citizens for a Better Baton Rouge, a PAC supporting White.
Titled "What's Sharon Broome hiding from?" the 30-second spot accuses her of being absent "when Baton Rouge needed a leader" and accuses her, among other things, of having "little to show" for her decades in office and voting for tax increases and against "pro-education bills." However, the ad does not name or annotate any specific measures to which it refers.
Her campaign has vowed not to engage in attacks. "When folks go low, we stay high," Broome said at a recent forum, invoking the words of First Lady Michelle Obama.
Democratic mayor-President candidate Sharon Weston Broome is promising to keep her campaign …
"We're trying to take the high road and stay positive," campaign spokesman Michael Beychok said in a separate interview.
Nevertheless, the campaign will address the "dishonest" ad against them and is planning to campaign through the mail, over the radio and on TV, he said.
"You've sort of got to respond in the medium in which you were attacked," Mann said.
You don't have to "set the other guy's house on fire" to set the record straight, though, he added.
One limiting factor for Broome's campaign is money. At last count, White had five times as much cash on hand, and his PAC also had a separate war chest larger than Broome's own.
The Republican Party's chosen candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president is sitti…
That could affect her strategy. Mann noted that Beychok, Broome's staffer, is an expert at direct mail. Reaching voters through the mail may lack the pizzazz of beaming into voters' homes during a Saints' game, but for a minimal investment, a candidate can get the message out to several thousand targeted voters. And mail "tends to be pretty negative," especially in local races, Mann said.
"The Price Is Right" or "Judge Judy"? "This Is Us" or "Chicago P.D."?
Hogan would expect Broome to go after White for his involvement in the creation of Central and attempted creation of the city of St. George.
"He was up to his armpits (in efforts) to take part of the city away," Hogan said.
That's a message that could resonate with Democrats and the Mid City voters other observers have identified as potentially able to sway the outcome.
In addition to her personal record, Broome will have to be careful about comparisons to Holden, Johnson said. Both are black Democrats who have represented north Baton Rouge, but Holden leaves office without a lot of popularity in some parts of town. When he ran last month for a U.S. House seat that runs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge against incumbent Rep. Cedric Richmond, he carried only 17 percent of the vote in his home parish.
As for the non-specific messages about Broome being bad for education and soft on crime, Hogan said the ads may not have plunged into too many particulars because voters don't know a lot about the candidate, and the vague statements may be enough "to plant seeds of doubt" in moderates' minds while whipping White's Republican base.
Another consideration will be political surrogates. White and Broome split the endorsements of the two politically moderate candidates whom they defeated in the November election. Darryl Gissel is now supporting Broome, while John Delgado is backing White, despite being harshly critical of him while on the campaign trail.
Baton Rouge mayoral candidates Sharon Weston Broome and Bodi White advanced to a runoff Tues…
Delgado has also gone after Broome, generally saying she allowed north Baton Rouge to stagnate during decades representing the area. He repeated those jabs when he announced the endorsement of his fellow Republican, White.
Broome responded by reminding Delgado of "White Lies," the video Delgado produced going after White over the failure to build the Comite River Diversion Canal before the August flood.
After spending much of the election cycle criticizing him, going so far as to register the w…
"Come on John! Do better," the Broome campaign wrote on Facebook, where they posted his video.
It remains to be seen whether White's campaign will produce any attack ads of its own. Campaign staffer Jay Vicknair declined to comment on the possibility but said voters would be seeing and hearing White on TV, radio and online in the lead-up to Election Day.
His campaign, with its greater resources, has already outspent Broome on broadcast advertising and has produced three videos to her one. White's have focused on education, traffic and crime, while Broome has zeroed in on flood recovery.
The Democrat has majorly outspent her opponent in one area, though. She spent over $30,000 on Election Day in November hiring workers and renting vans to turn out voters. White spent less than a tenth of that amount, according to campaign finance reports.