Holden able to attract moderate white voters

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden breezed into a third term Tuesday because he was more successful than challenger Mike Walker at appealing to moderate white voters, according to an election analyst.

Holden easily won with 60 percent of the vote while Walker, a well-financed Republican who had secured high-profile statewide endorsements, captured only 34 percent of the vote. No-party candidates Gordon Mese and Steve Myers secured 3 and 2 percent, respectively.

John Couvillon, of JMC Analytics and Polling, said the parish is trending increasingly more Democratic adding that changes to the electorate in recent years worked in favor of Holden, a Democrat.

Factors that favored Holden, he said, were the fact that the parish has a growing black electorate as well as the high minority voter turnout on Tuesday, similar to that for the presidential turnout in 2008 when Barack Obama was first elected. In addition, there are an increasing number of liberal and moderate white voters, he said.

The number of registered black voters in East Baton Rouge Parish, who historically favor Democrats at the polls, has increased since 2008. Currently, 43 percent of registered voters are black and 53 percent are white, up slightly from 2008 when it was 41 percent black to 55 percent white, Couvillon said.

He said there are ordinarily 10 percent more white voters than black voters in a typical Baton Rouge election, but the difference shrunk to 5 percent in 2008 which featured the first black U.S. presidential candidate on the balance and again on Tuesday when Obama sought and won re-election.

But Couvillon said what hurt Walker most was his inability to attract white moderates, noting that white voters still outnumber black voters parishwide.

He pointed out that presidential candidate Mitt Romney won a majority of the votes cast in 77 percent of the parish’s 91 majority-white precincts — which have 80 percent or more white registered voters — while Barack Obama won a majority in 21 percent of majority white precincts.

However, Couvillon said Walker only carried 54 percent of the same majority white precincts while Holden won 39 percent.

Couvillon said he would generally expect Walker to do well in the districts Romney carried.

“There was a 23 percent drop between Mitt Romney and Mike Walker,” he said.

But in the 80 majority-black precincts — with 80 percent or more black voters — Obama won in 97 percent of the precincts and Holden similarly won in 92 percent of the precincts, Couvillon said.

“What you have is a critical mass of white moderate and white liberal voters that by and large live within the city limits of Baton Rouge,” Couvillon said, including such neighborhoods as the Garden District area. “They voted for Kip Holden starting in 2004, and have stuck with him since then.”

He speculated that white moderates may have supported Holden over Walker because “Kip had a lot of accomplishments he could point to,” whereas Walker was perceived as obstructionist on the council.

Holden said Wednesday that he crosses racial, religious and party lines every day, adding that he attends two different churches, First United Methodist, which is mostly white, and Greater King David Baptist Church, which is mostly black.

He said he’s worked with church leaders in both the Hispanic and Vietnamese communities and noted that he’s a black mayor responsible for attracting the Bayou Country Superfest to Baton Rouge, which attracts “mainly country western fans.”

Holden made history in 2008 when he took 70 percent of the vote and won every precinct in the parish.

This time, Holden won in 220 out of 315 — or 70 percent of parish precincts.

Regionally, Holden dominated among voters in the cities of Baton Rouge and Baker, while Walker dominated in Central. In Zachary, voters were split between the two front runners, but generally leaned more in Holden’s favor.

Walker said Wednesday that he had no regrets about his campaign, and wishes Holden well.

He said he wants to continue to serve the community and asked if he would seek another office, Walker said, “never say never.”

He also said he feels victorious in that he was able to draw increased attention to the parish’s crime problems and put pressure on the mayor to address them.

But Walker said the parish is divided and Holden isn’t equipped to bridge the gap.

“We need someone who will pull Baton Rouge together, but he’s not the man to do it,” Walker said. “You can’t expect the community to come together if he won’t work with all facets of the community.”

Holden called Walker “bitter,” adding that, “Obviously more people than him think that I am the right person to bring this parish together.”

He also said Walker employed divisive campaign tactics, referring to a recent commercial linking Holden to Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan.

“When you talk about not being able to bring people together, well at least I didn’t have to stoop to the level of race baiting,” Holden said.

On Tuesday night, Holden said he would continue to build on the progress of his last two terms during the next four years by working with businesses and recruiting new industry. He said he wants to encourage more people to get involved with churches and schools to address issues such as education and crime.

He also said he’s going to promote the parish’s medical corridor, encouraging locals to take advantage of the first rate facilities and doctors available in Baton Rouge.

“What you’re about to see transform over the next four years are things you’ve never even dreamed of,” he said Tuesday.