It would appear that what’s left of the Republican Party in Shreveport has thrown in the towel to run that city – and may have better policy outcomes for it.
With the next mayor’s race just a year away, long-rumored candidate state Rep. Patrick Williams recently put on a fundraiser. What raised eyebrows among observers was the number of elected Republicans who had signed on to play a supporting role in this endeavor for the Democrat – and this effort didn’t include only moderates like Caddo Parish Commissioner John Escude’, but also conservative stalwarts like state Sen. Barrow Peacock.
That most of the local GOP legislative delegation signaled support for a black Democrat shows that they have written off the chance for their party to capture the spot their party held for most of the 1990s. As a candidate, Williams makes some sense from a conservative perspective – if you believe the only kind of candidate who can win is a black Democrat. On the Louisiana Legislature Log voting index over his six years in office, Williams’ average score is almost 46, where a score of 100 means voting a perfect conservative/reform record, and a 0 means voting a perfect liberal/populist record.
In fact, in two of those six years, he was the highest scoring black Democrat in the House. But the picture is far from perfect for, or even perhaps acceptable to, some conservatives. In the second year of his first term, he (with another nine Democrats) scored a 0, and this past year (second year of his second term) he scored only a 20. Still, with a couple of scores of 60 and an overall average that exceeds the House Democrats’ over that time period, that’s about as good as a conservative could expect to find in a black Democrat.
Thus the thinking goes that it’s better to get as moderate a liberal as possible in there instead of holding out for a much more conservative candidate who has no chance of winning. That’s based upon the changing demographic portrait of Shreveport voters.
In 2006 after the mayoral general election, white former city attorney Jerry Jones seemed poised to get a Republican back in office, when he faced former state Rep. Cedric Glover, a black Democrat, in the general election runoff. Had the turnout model of the first election held, Jones would have won 51-49. Instead, black turnout increased a quarter more than white turnout, and while white crossover remained at about the norm, black crossover voting for Jones almost disappeared, handing Glover an eight-point win that he later parlayed into a nearly two-to-one triumph over another Republican in 2010.
The demographics perhaps tell this story. In 2006 at election time, whites comprised 48.7 of the registered total, a percent higher than blacks. In terms of party registration, Republicans made up 24.7 percent, while 37.5 percent of the electorate was black Democrats. By 2010, whites at 45.8 percent then trailed black registration by 4.2 percent and while the proportion of registered Republicans remained the same, that of black Democrats had increased 3.9 percent. As of Nov. 2013, blacks had increased their slim absolute majority of three years ago to 52.2 percent, now 8.6 percentage points higher than whites, and GOP adherents edged down to 24.3 percent while black Democrats represented 41.6 percent of the electorate.
In other words, the numbers are much less favorable than in the reasonably close 2006 election for a Republican candidate, and have deteriorated somewhat from the blowout loss in 2010. It’s little wonder party elites seem to be headed into a mode of accommodation rather than conflict.
And it’s a strategy that could produce a more favorable outcome. By backing a conservative Republican, this would erode votes from a more moderate Democrat of any color, allowing more liberal Democrats to get into the runoff to win. By having conservatives eschew that kind of candidate, the more moderate Democrat could gain enough to make the runoff to win.
However, that strategy carries some risk. This could entice even more liberal kinds of candidates into the contest, thinking they needed to differentiate themselves even more decisively from any candidate trying to present himself as a moderate, and it is unlikely that all conservatives in the electorate simply would lay down and not have at least one conservative Republican run. This could squeeze that less liberal Democrat out for the runoff. Or, conservatives might be so discouraged without a true conservative in the runoff contest that they sit it out, declining to support a more moderate Democrat to allow a very liberal Democrat to win.
Reducing the chance of these scenarios is that, among black Democrats in Shreveport, there has developed a minor schism among those in power and those out of it. Thus, there will be enough division in the initial general election portion to allow Republicans to act as a decisive swing vote. In 2010, an incumbent Glover had the resources to fend off the “outs” within the coalition of black Democrats that got him to the runoff. In 2014, Williams stands a great chance of becoming the standard bearer of the “outs” from 2010, sluicing away support from the “ins” of 2010 without incumbency resources to keep them on that side to ensure his not getting aced out of a runoff even with a conservative candidate running.
Still, in a putative all black Democrat runoff, Williams still would have to guard against potential conservative disappearance by making sure he leads coming out of the general election. With the support he is garnering from elected Republicans, he aims precisely to ensure that.