With an unprecedented number of candidates jumping into the race for East Baton Rouge mayor-president, political experts say the election is now much more competitive — and interesting.
For months, it had looked like incumbent Sharon Weston Broome would only face a few challengers and might have a relatively easy path to re-election. But the arrival of several new candidates — particularly the surprise, last-minute entry of former state lawmaker Steve Carter — has shaken things up, and it now seems likely Broome will face a run-off, analysts say.
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"I've already got my popcorn ready," said Albert Samuels, chair and professor of political science at Southern University's Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. "Given the fact some of these candidates do have some name recognition and have a base, that practically guarantees there will be a run-off. It certainly makes things a little more complicated."
The crowded field of challengers include Metro Council members Tara Wicker and Matt Watson, businessman Jordan Piazza, attorney "E Eric" Guirard, political newcomer Frank Smith III, current state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle and Carter.
"There must be the perception of weakness—in regards to the incumbent," said John Couvillion, president of JMC Enterprises of Louisiana. "If all these people challenging her didn't think she could be beaten, they would have passed on the race."
With this many competitive candidates, there will be competition for the same blocs of voters. For example, Samuels believes Wicker and Marcelle, who are both Black Democrats, could siphon Black votes away from Broome in the primary.
"Certainly Denise has a base; she's a former council person and she's a state rep who will conceivably cause problems for Sharon," he said.
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Meanwhile, Carter and Watson may compete for the same conservative voters.
Piazza and Smith, both Republicans, and Guirard, an independent, don't have the name recognition in the political money circles to take on the other challengers, according to Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat.
Carter's unexpected entry to the race on the last day of qualifying is a particularly serious challenge to Broome, Pinsonat says. He may win some moderate white votes that proved essential in Broome's narrow victory over state Rep. Bodi White, R-Central, in the 2016 run-off that made her the city-parish's first black female mayor-president.
Broome defeated White four years ago by a little more than 4,300 votes. As expected, she pulled much of her support within the Baton Rouge city limits, where a majority of the parish's black voters reside, while White did well in the unincorporated parts of the parish and in the northern rural areas of Central and Zachary.
But Pinsonat points to a pocket of white moderate voters within the city limits, an area that encompasses downtown Baton Rouge and extends south along Perkins Road before sprawling out around Siegen Lane and Bluebonnet, as a potential hotspot for Carter to scoop up support. Much of that area was part of Carter's district in the state Legislature, he adds.
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"(Steve Carter)is not this right-winger from North Baton Rouge," Pinsonat said, referencing the 2016 run-off between White and Broome. "This is a guy who's part of the LSU community, he represented them as a state rep."
As a representative, Carter made headlines for trying to improve traffic by boosting the gas tax and for school reform proposals, which Pinsonat said makes him a formidable challenger to Broome.
"Now, that doesn't mean she'll lose," Pinsonat said. "But this is certainly not going to be an election where she can say, 'I'll run a few ads then I'll be re-elected.' This means she's in for a tough re-election."
Since 1988, only one mayor has lost in a re-election bid after their first term, Bobby Simpson in 2004. No other incumbent mayor has even been forced into a runoff since W.W. "Woody" Dumas won a fourth and final term in 1976.
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