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Uncertain Shreveport race can make history

With fewer than two weeks to the election and early voting already underway, nobody really can guess whether the Shreveport mayor’s contest will make history.

That’s because, even at this late date, no independent public polling of the race has occurred. Featuring several candidates, the presumed major ones are incumbent Democrat mayor Ollie Tyler, Democrat Parish Commissioner Stephen Jackson, Democrat lawyer Adrian Perkins, Republican businessman Lee Savage, and Republican retired law enforcement officer Jim Taliaferro.

The mix of nonpublic and politically-affiliated polls seem to confirm this. They agree only in that Tyler leads the way, with Perkins and Taliaferro somewhat behind, and Jackson and Savage further back. One surrogate for electoral support brings partial confirmation, in that Tyler and Perkins far and away led in the last batch (30 days prior to the election) of campaign finance reports, while the other three collectively hadn’t even approached what either of those two individually has raised.

These data suggest the historical possibility of the race. While only occasionally, and only in recent history (five times) a runoff has matched a Democrat vs. Republican, with every other time any runoff featuring two Democrats, never have two black Democrats contested a runoff (in fact, the first time a black Democrat made it into a runoff was the first time a Republican did so, in 1990).

Squaring off of black candidates Tyler and Perkins can occur only if Republican voters decide they want to vote tactically. With the GOP’s failure over the past two decades to put one of their own into office (that happening only in 1990 and 1994), enough activists and a sufficient proportion of the mass base may figure they must choose the lesser of two evils. This may be contributing to the somewhat unlikely rise of Perkins.

“Unlikely,” because Perkins has no elective experience and spent much of his adult life away from Shreveport. Then again, Tyler had not lived in Shreveport for a few years prior to her retirement from the state’s Department of Education and also never had held elective office before her win four years ago, although she had a high-profile political role as the Caddo Parish School District superintendent for a few years and until then had lived almost all her adult years in the city.

Perkins also found himself enmeshed in a bizarre incident where Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver, the father of the woman he dates, disowned his candidacy. Then again, Tyler faced scrutiny over an event a half-century ago with her shooting fatally her then-husband and injuring herself yet still emerged triumphant.

But “somewhat” not just because of these parallels with Tyler’s rookie success, but also because of a shrewdness recognizing a path to victory. Tyler, becoming the in-fact political establishment with her 2014 win, has tried to capitalize on that. Jackson, for his part emerged as Tyler’s leading critic but gave every indication he would govern from the political left; that is, a preference for taxing and spending, given his actions and rhetoric on the Parish Commission.

Jackson also in the past aligned himself with one of the two black political factions in town, whose highest-profile representative now is Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover, the mayor prior to Tyler. Glover had supported Tyler in 2014 but that relationship seems to have frayed. In effect, that faction has split between Tyler and Jackson.

Cleverly, Perkins, who just graduated from law school after a military career shortened by disability, has marketed himself towards the political middle. He touts his Army service and had it both ways concerning the nomination of now Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, with his name appearing on a letter in support but then denying he signed it.

This strategy may explain the Tarver incident. Given Tarver’s checkered career in politics, to attract more conservative voters Perkins may wish to have had a public dissociation with the veteran politician who fronts the other major black faction. Yet that faction hasn’t seemed to have gravitated towards any other candidate. Plus, Perkins, four decades Tyler’s junior, has presented himself as the candidate full of novelty and vigor with the energy to lead Shreveport in the new millennium, while giving little away about specific ideological policy preferences.

With his tabula rasa political background further sanitized by the presumed Tarver disavowal, Perkins presents himself as the best middle-of-the-road option for those not enamored by Tyler. If he walks the tightrope – aided in part by the two Republicans probably splitting further the conservative vote – well enough to make it into the runoff, he has a decent chance to make history again, as Shreveport’s second-youngest mayor (James Gardner in 1954 the youngest, when Tyler was a child).

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