Rickie Collins wasn’t surprised when his niece, Gwen Collins-Greenup, flew under the radar of the Louisiana politico class yet won a spot at the top of Saturday’s ballot.

“And you know what? She’s going surprise everybody again,” he said of the special election to fill out the remaining year of Tom Schedler’s term as Secretary of State. Schedler resigned in May on the heels of sexual harassment allegations.

Collins is family, of course, but mathematically it’s possible, though not probable, that his niece can win.

This contest pits a fairly unknown Republican running as an institutional incumbent and an unknown Democrat from Clinton with gumption enough to travel the state, shake hands, visit churches and secure 289,097 votes in the primary last month. Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, of Baton Rouge, received 59,541 more ballots — pretty close given the 1.4 million votes cast.

Eight months ago, Ardoin was Schedler’s top assistant in the office that oversees elections, signs up businesses, runs a few museums and archives the state’s papers. Five months ago, Collins-Greenup was the confidential assistant to the East Feliciana Parish Schools Superintendent before embarking on a bid to be the state’s third-highest-ranking official.

Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Chair Randal Gaines, a state representative from LaPlace, has seen that kind of work ethic out-perform better financed and better connected candidates in smaller races, but never statewide.

Successful candidates need to look potential voters in the eye and leave them feeling good. Then they must get those people to the polls, he said.

And that’s the rub.

The secretary of state primary coincided with mid-term congressional elections that amounted to a referendum on President Donald Trump and attracted half the state’s registered voters.

“If she can mobilize or remobilize her voters, then she has a good chance to pull it off,” Gaines said. That’s where the Louisiana Democratic Party, of which he is one of the leaders, can help.

The party has the lists of voters who participated in the primary and is making the calls necessary to get those voters to return to the polls, he said.

Democrats were late to the Collins-Greenup campaign, having backed another candidate, Renée Fontenot Free, in the primary. But they’re helping now, Gaines said.

The calculus is basically this: If the same percentage of African-American voters show up Saturday as did in last month’s primary, 46.9 percent of 933,836 registered, and the white turnout drops below 25 percent from 63.7 percent in the primary, Collins-Greenup wins.

Though possible, that’s somewhat like positing how history would have changed if Napoleon had B-52s.

Republicans account for all but one statewide official, five of six congressmen, and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature — largely because their voters show up. And no African-American has won a statewide election since Reconstruction.

Democrats cast 528,213 votes in the primary, and 608,468 Republicans voted. The Democrats, however, came within 5 percent — or 80,255 votes — of having both their candidates in the runoff.

Louis Gurvich, who chairs the Louisiana Republican Party, has done the numbers, too, and says the GOP can’t take anything for granted. It's also working the phones.

“You never are going to say it’s going to be an easy race,” Gurvich said. “But our people need to get out and vote in this one.”

Where early voting, which ended Saturday, started out with record-breaking numbers in the primary, the general election saw “the lowest early voting turnout EVER,” Baton Rouge pollster John Couvillon said, using the caps for emphasis in his analysis.

Turnout could be about 20 percent, more than last year’s 13 percent in the state treasurer’s race but still anemic, Couvillon said.

It has been a low-energy and low-funded race.

Collins-Greenup last week reported raising $22,600 — a huge jump from the roughly $2,500 she had for the primary, but far behind the nearly $131,000 raised by Ardoin since the Nov. 6 primary, according to finances disclosed to the state Ethics Board.

“She should be congratulated, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals of politics,” said G. Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana Lafayette.

In a low-interest campaign, Ardoin is falling back on the tried and true strategy of energizing the Republican base to vote, hammering the narrative that he is the best defense from Democrats trying to steal elections, a gambit used by Republican secretary of state candidates around the country.

“The secretary of state is supposed to be neutral. So, I’m not sure what a conservative secretary of state is versus a liberal one. But that’s the age we live in,” Cross said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.