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The Wise Men



When veteran political consultants Jim Carvin and Joe Walker signed on to handle Ray Nagin's campaign for mayor in December, the political community didn't exactly sit up and take note. Carvin, 70, and Walker, 68, had advised scores of candidates over the past 30 to 40 years, but until Nagin tapped them to handle his eleventh-hour campaign, it looked as though the two old soldiers were going to sit this war out.

Indeed, they wondered privately if they were destined to just fade away.

Former state Rep. Sherman Copelin probably summed up the views of many politicos when he jokingly called them "dinosaurs" in early January -- and dissed the chances of their still-unknown candidate for mayor.

Now, two months later, Carvin and Walker are having the last laugh. "Sherman's no Nostradamus," Carvin chuckles.

In fact, Copelin's "dinosaurs" remark became a battle cry for the two old friends -- and their winning candidate. In his victory speech March 2, Nagin singled them out for thanks and shouted, "Dinosaurs rule!"

It was a Kodak moment for both men -- the latest in a pair of careers that has elected governors, mayors, council members, DAs, congressmen and more. They haven't always been on the same side, but when they are, they usually win.

Carvin is one of the original political advertising gurus in Louisiana, and Walker holds the same status among pollsters.

Carvin's winning streak of mayoral candidates dates back to Moon Landrieu's first victory in 1970. He handled Landrieu's re-election campaign as well, plus the elections and re-elections of Dutch Morial, Sidney Barthelemy and Marc Morial.

Carvin notes that he did not handle any of Dutch Morial's and Marc Morial's attempts to change the City Charter so that they could extend their terms. "You don't usually get hired when you tell the client he can't win," Carvin says wryly.

But don't sell Marc Morial short. While Copelin and others were snickering about "dinosaurs," the mayor whispered encouragingly to Nagin that his ad man had gotten the last four mayors elected.

Walker, meanwhile, has been a fixture in campaigns since 1970. Appearing as an election-night analyst on WDSU-TV in 1971, he was the first to call Edwin Edwards the winner in that year's cliffhanger runoff for governor. As a pollster for The Times-Picayune in 1979, he forecast Louis Lambert's late primary surge into the runoff for governor.

Two months ago, Walker sat Nagin down and gave him the news: with less than a month to go, the candidate was at 5 percent -- but there was hope. "Seventy-two percent of the voters are either undecided or not firmly committed to any candidate," Walker told Nagin. "If you stay in the race, I think we've got a shot -- but this is not for the faint-hearted."

Nagin stayed, and Walker's read once again proved to be prescient.

In or out of campaigns, Carvin and Walker are a pair of Damon Runyon characters. Carvin, the steady hand, and Walker, the disheveled number cruncher, are like a combination of every Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau "buddy" film -- from The Odd Couple to The Sunshine Boys to Grumpy Old Men.

I've learned 90 percent of whatever I've come to know about Louisiana politics (and a few things about life as well) from these two guys. They are The Wise Men.

And this election cycle, they ruled.

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