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Shreveport results show candidates, campaigns matter

Candidates and their campaigns matter. You can have the majority of constituents with you on the issues and your party identification may comport to the majority of those voting, but decisions made by candidates in their campaigns can more than negatively offset these advantages, and vice-versa when the demographics aren’t on your side. Recent Shreveport elections presented a good dose of this reality.

If he were honest with himself, Republican Bryan Wooley knew he had almost no chance of winning the mayor’s contest against incumbent Democrat Cedric Glover. No matter how big the wave for conservative Republicans was nationwide, that the city had a 50.2 percent black registration and Democrat registration of 54.5 percent provided a pretty big seawall for use by a black Democrat to fight it off – especially as Glover had shown in the past that he could turn out his base with the best of them.

Assuming this honesty existed, Wooley could justify his attempt after a term on the City Council by thinking he could leverage campaigning for mayor into a seat in the state legislature. Perhaps he considered that state Sen. Buddy Shaw, next year in his mid-70s, might want to hang it up (a special election for the state House seat in his district just concluded) and he could use a citywide run to get a head start on 2011. Really only this could justify giving up a seat where he would be a heavy favorite for reelection. As long as he ran a credible campaign, the experience would boost his political career.

Wooley had won unexpectedly in 2006, defeating a then-current Caddo Parish Commissioner, the former District D councilman, and the appointed interim seatholder. You can’t do that without a good campaign and candidate. However, the kind of office also matters. At this level, with approximately 30,000 constituents that stresses eye-level media and personal contact, the greater demands of campaigning to a much larger mass base that can reveal flaws in the candidate in campaign aren’t part of the equation. Having to go on TV, regular media reporting, and getting out the vote from a population of 200,000 may be things a campaign that succeeds at a smaller level can’t handle well.

Going for the top job turned out to expose those flaws with Wooley. People had to have a reason to vote for him other than he was not a liberal Democrat, and he didn’t give them much with no real legislative accomplishments and rhetoric heavy on bromides but short on substance. Bizarre decisions sealed his fate, such as choices to violate the spirit of campaign laws and basing the latter part of his campaign on attacks on Glover’s character that, with the surface evidence publicly available, seemed to be little more than slinging of unverifiable mud.

This resulted in a blowout 63-37 percent win for Glover. That Glover beat him on election day in his own Republican-plurality district in a Republican wave year speaks volumes to the quality of the candidacy of Wooley. He was not ready for prime time and in effect took himself out of the running for pursuing an office such as state Senate any time soon.

But with different dynamics, the GOP wave proved formidable this year. Trying to succeed Wooley was Republican Michael Corbin, who gathered 43 percent of the vote in the Oct. 2 primary. But another Republican picked up 13 percent who immediately made it known she would vote for his other-party opponent who led coming out of the primary.

In the general election runoff, Corbin increased his number of votes compared to all previous Republican votes by 65 percent. However, his opponent increased his by nearly 69 percent. Yet Corbin won 55-45 percent because it appears most of the Republicans that had voted for his Republican opponent rode the wave and went with him the next time, as well as did new Republican voters which got turnout to jump to around 55 percent.

And both the wave and candidate qualities seem to have influenced the District B outcome. Sheva Sims entered the runoff in good shape. Although the black Democrat finished with 40 percent behind the 46 percent of white Democrat Jeff Everson, the 6 percent who voted for last-place finisher black Democrat Craig Lee could be expected to vote for her, and third place finisher white no-party Deborah Allen endorsed Sims.

The district, with its 51.2 percent black registration, almost got Sims elected four years ago against a white incumbent Democrat with then only a plurality of blacks registered. But Everson triumphed last week with 52 percent because, from unofficial indications, the turnout pattern from the primary was replicated in the runoff. In Sims’ best precincts which also had the highest proportions of blacks, turnout was roughly equivalent between whites and blacks. However, in Everson’s best, with the highest proportions of whites, white turnout typically was two and even three times that of black turnout, even riding Glover’s coattails.

Sims’ weakness as a candidate also showed in that in the primary she was beaten by Allen, Lee, or both in four (large) majority white precincts. In the runoff, her votes didn’t equal those of her and the two defeated candidates in the primary while Everson’s typically doubled. And in the largest majority black precincts, Everson’s proportion of the vote actually increased relative to hers from election to election.

Lesson: abilities of candidates can complement or stifle short- and long-term effects for and against their elections. It’s not always a matter of just running the numbers.

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