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Taliaferro challenge shows Perkins weakness

The announcement by Republican Caddo Parish Commissioner Jim Taliaferro that he has thrown his hat into Shreveport’s mayoral ring speaks both to a strategy and the weakness of Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins.

Incumbents don’t need to worry much when a political unknown announces a bid against them even when just under two years out. But it’s another matter entirely, and a bad sign, when an experienced politician declares his intention with the election so far away. Regarding Taliaferro, the seriousness of his challenge comes not so much from his elected position – he’s been on the Commission just over a year, the sum total of his experience in elective office – but that he ran for mayor in 2018 and finished third with over a fifth of the vote.

Taliaferro acted quickly because of the growing perception that Perkins, politically speaking, is a walking corpse. Unknown and unvetted in 2018, he could become a blank slate for the gullible to read into him whatever they wanted. With that illusion gone and his leftist credentials on full display, he has no hope of reconstructing the fusionist coalition that not only powered him to office with a nontrivial portion of Republican votes, but whose presence in his column denied Taliaferro the chance to advance to the runoff.

As such, Taliaferro would want to get onto the ground floor. He faced another major GOP candidate in 2018, businessman Lee Savage, whose votes consolidated in one of them would have gotten that guy up against Perkins in the runoff. Almost certainly that candidate would have lost, but with the bloom so decisively off Perkins heading into 2022, at this point a Perkins/Taliaferro matchup is a toss-up.

If he runs without a party label. That’s the variant of a strategy Republicans pulled off with no party Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis last year: in a jurisdiction with your typical voters in the minority, obscure partisan ties, get a damaged incumbent into a runoff, pick off the disgruntled from the majority and hope others turned off by the incumbent stay home to secure the win. Of course, the key is to get into the runoff and not as a Republican optimally, as going the no party route can increase crossover voting.

By acting early, Taliaferro increases his odds of accomplishing this. It discourages other challengers from the right, knowing someone with a track record already has committed. It also shuts off the possibility of a fusionist candidate from the left, counting on Republicans to write off the race and leaving GOP voters up for grabs who more likely would shun Perkins. Now, a Democrat’s possible pool of voters shrinks and makes riskier entry into the race, especially if having to surrender another office to run for mayor.

Best of all, Taliaferro entering this early makes it more likely he can run under the no party non-label. The plan comes a-cropper if another Republican, even a minor candidate, enters the race because that person would siphon votes, leaving room on the left for a Democrat to make the runoff. Taliaferro must make himself the default voter for Republicans and not allow the greater chance of misunderstanding because he tactically would abjure the party’s label. By getting out there early, it makes easier fending off others of his party.

One potential problem with running no party is Taliaferro would have to resign his Caddo Parish Executive Committee seat for the Republican Party. With around 53,000 black Democrats registered to vote and only about 41,000 Republicans and white Democrats, a no party designation would do a better job of closing that substantial gap, particularly by drawing other party voters which (barely) exceed the number of Republicans. And, his chances diminish dramatically if a leftist candidate aces Perkins out of the runoff – or obviously these go to zero if it’s Taliaferro finishing third or worse.

He’ll need to do better than the $60,000 he raised for 2018, but a proven track record and an early start should help. Seldom have major candidates for Shreveport mayor announced so early in the cycle, but the dynamics of what it will take to put someone other than a Democrat into City Hall demand that.

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