The surprise, last-minute entry Friday of former state Rep. Steve Carter in the crowded Baton Rouge mayor’s race could significantly change the dynamics of the contest and force incumbent Mayor Sharon Weston Broome into a December runoff that’s too close to call, political analysts say.
That’s because Carter represents a particularly lethal kind of threat to Broome: He’s a moderate Republican, popular among the swing voters in south Baton Rouge that he represented in the Legislature for eight years.
Those mostly white voters went with Broome over the more conservative Republican Sen. Bodi White four years ago in the mayor’s race. If they support Carter over Broome in a runoff this year, the outcome could be different.
“You have someone running from her white base—those white moderate voters that she needs to win,” says political pollster Bernie Pinsonat. “Of course, a lot depends on the differential between white and Black voters, but however you slice it, Carter is a former elected official, well-liked and part of that LSU community.”
Granted, it’s too early to assume Carter is the most likely of Broome’s seven challengers to make a runoff against her. Those challengers include Metro Council members Matt Watson and Tara Wicker, State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, businessman Jordan Piazza, attorney E. Eric Guirard and political newcomer Frank Smith, III.
But analysts say there are a couple of reasons the odds work in Carter’s favor. For one, the two Black Democratic women in the race, Wicker and Marcelle, will pull some votes from Broome’s north Baton Rouge base in the primary but will likely have a hard time making it into a runoff, given Broome’s incumbent status and formidable fundraising machine.
For another, the four white, Republican men in the race are either underfunded at the moment, lack name recognition or both. Carter, on the other hand, is well-known and has a broad base of support.
“He’s a likable guy,” says consultant Clay Young. “He is known as an education reformer. He is not someone people generally look at and have a negative reaction to.”
But experts caution that while the primary election is just a little more than three months away, it’s still too early to make any predictions, especially given the pandemic factor, which throws a monkey wrench into the way campaigning is usually done and calls into question traditional political assumptions.
“I don’t have any precedent to draw on because this is such a strange time,” says political consultant George Kennedy. “Under normal circumstances, you would assume Carter is the likely favorite to make a runoff. But we don’t really know if norms hold in a pandemic.”
Given that the primary is also a presidential election, November turnout will be high among both Republicans and Democrats. Analysts say Broome is the odds-on favorite to finish first in the primary. Whoever makes the runoff against her will be the challenger who can mount the most viable campaign.
“She is the most likely to make it into the runoff because she is the incumbent,” Young says. “But in terms of the order of who comes next, it will depend on viability—how much money is raised and how effectively it’s spent.”