Unless Democrats find a way to rally their voters, they will let slip away the sheriff’s post in Caddo Parish.
Earlier this month, the sheriff’s race there sent white Republican lawyer and former Shreveport city councilor John Nickelson and black Democrat former Shreveport chief administrative officer and police chief Henry Whithorn into a runoff. Nickelson, who has the endorsement of outgoing GOP Sheriff Steve Prator, received 45 percent of the vote while Whitehorn, who worked for Democrat former Mayor Adrian Perkins who decisively lost a reelection bid last year, pulled in 35 percent. Two other Republicans took in 11 percent while two other Democrats, one black, racked up 9 percent.
That GOP candidates collected 56 percent should raise some eyebrows. Whites are just shy of a majority of registrants, with blacks barely behind and the remaining other race voters at about five percent. Conventional wisdom would be that while few blacks would vote for a Republican, the proportion of liberal whites would at least double that chunk and would vote for a Democrat, giving Whitehorn the edge.
Indeed, the results would suggest that. In Caddo precincts where black Democrats comprise at least 70 percent of the electorate, Whitehorn pulled in an average of 76.8 percent of the vote and along with the other black candidate they had 88.8 percent of the vote in such precincts, while Nickleson received just 2.5 percent in these. In precincts where Republicans and white Democrats made up at least 70 percent, Nickelson scored 71.5 percent and Republicans combined took home 91 percent, while Whitehorn got 5.8 percent.
These results differ from that of Shreveport’s mayor’s race last year, with the city having over three-quarters of voters in the parish. There, winner Republican Tom Arceneaux did better than expected among black voters to win in a black majority electorate, perhaps aided by his runoff opponent Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver having a controversial past.
Whitehorn doesn’t have a controversial background; indeed, his decades of law enforcement experience might in the minds of voters suit him well for the chief law enforcement officer’s job in the parish, although much of it is administrative and part of it is unrelated to policing. But the problem his campaign faces addresses the other factor that propelled Arceneaux to victory – turnout differentials.
Statewide, the 2023 general election contrasted with the last in 2019 in turnout decline, going from 45.9 percent to 36.3 percent (previously pretty accurately predicted here). The differential drop off by race, however, was even more dramatic; while white turnout slipped from 50 to 42 percent, black turnout plunged from just over 40 percent to just under 28 percent. By party, Democrats lost 12.5 percentage points while Republicans fell just over 7 points.
That relative decline appeared to have enabled GOP Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry to claim the governorship without a runoff, as well as boosted other Republicans’ fortunes. The same dynamic played out in Caddo, where overall turnout went from 39.3 percent in 2019 to 30.5 in 2023, but white turnout dropped only 7.5 percent and black turnout shed nearly 10 points. By party, Republicans lost 8.4 points while Democrats saw the bottom drop out, losing 17.5 points.
This bodes well for Nickelson, as his base likely contains voters of higher socioeconomic status who are less likely to skip the runoff. However, a factor in Whitehorn’s favor is a competitive Senate District 39 contest between two black Democrats that will entice his base voters to show up.
Landry’s superb campaign – he managed to grab 48 percent of the vote in Caddo, or higher than the proportion of whites in the electorate – may have drawn in some people now willing to sit out the runoff and likely who voted for a Republican sheriff candidate. But that roll off alone likely won’t be enough to give Whitehorn a chance. Democrats and his campaign have to narrow the partisan turnout gap considerably, by boosting their base turnout, if he is to stand a chance of winning in an electorate where in the last high profile parish-wide race three years ago black Democrat District Atty. James Stewart won handily, without even drawing a Republican opponent.