New Orleans Ray Nagin was re-elected as Mayor of New Orleans by a solid 52-48 margin over Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. Many have asked how this was possible.
Here are the facts and then we will look at the theories.
* Almost 25% of the vote was through absentee and satellite voting — basically the diaspora. This was essentially a “push” with Nagin winning by less than 200 votes out of this set.
* Only 38% of the eligible voters cast ballots.
* Endorsements did not move core preferences. Both candidates won where they had won before. In precincts that had been taken by other major white candidates in the primary (Foreman or Couhig on the conservative, republican, and wealthy side), Landrieu won by 80% majorities.
* Race trumped everything else and the percentage of the African-American vote in the runoff was close to 55% compared to 52% in the primary.
* Nagin expanded doubled his white vote from 9% in the primary to close to 20% in the runoff, while Landrieu when down from 25% black vote to closer to 20% in the final.
Here are my opinions on what made the difference at the end of the day:
* Race. Landrieu assumed a black crossover, but he failed to make a clear and convincing case, especially on the symbolic issues (footprint, diaspora, etc) that sent the message to these voters that he would really save their houses, jobs, and hopes. Nagin was able to send the message that there was a gang-up to get rid of him — which was true — and black voters rallied to save one of their own and maintain control of the office as they had for a generation. Voters essentially said, “you can take my house and job, but this is one thing I’m not letting you have!”
* Incumbency. No matter the challenges faced by the incumbent, you have to take a seat away from someone as the challenger, rather than operate as if it is yours. Landrieu made the classic error after the primary of assuming he had already won because of the first reason above. It had been 60 years since a mayor failed to win a 2nd term in New Orleans after all.
* Crazy man for crazy times. Nagin was able to convince the voters that he was just as crazy and Katrina beset as all of them were and his style fit the times. Nagin was simply a much better politician than Mitch, and it came across. Mitch was the nice guy. Nagin was the mad man who might embarrass us, but might stumble on to a solution as well.
* Hard-core Republicans. Couhig could not deliver his hardcore, white, conservative Republican base which gave him 10,000 votes in the 1st for a 4th place showing, but his endorsement of Nagin but to the real loyalist who knew that voting for Nagin would help them beat Mary Landrieu in the Senate and give them another fighting chance at retaking the governor’s seat in 07 against Blanco, this was good for a couple of thousand votes, and could have been the real margin in the white crossover for Nagin.
Who is up and who is down now as we try and rebuild the city?
* The Times-Picayune (www.nola.com) had nothing but egg everywhere. Endorsed first Foreman, then Landrieu but only begrudgingly at the last minute on Wednesday. Pretty much every position it insisted had to be debated was ignored and it’s recommendations meant nothing to most people even in the city.
* A generation of black political machines were left without a base or patrons and ignored by Nagin as well.
* Joe Canizaro, Boysie Bollinger, and the big Republican fundraisers came back to Ray at the end of the run, but there’s no love any more and they were reduced to begging to be heard on the front page of the paper yesterday hoping that Nagin would listen to business again. Not!
* Unions have some friends on the council but not many and backed the loser from the first day.
* Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) ends up as another bunch of goo-goo’s howling at the wind. Nagin resented the fact that his scandal free run got him nada from the white silk stocking crowd.
To be determined….
* ACORN took no position in the Mayor’s race concentrating instead on election protection, GOTV, and commitments from both candidates to the rebuilding effort. There’s no happiness in the middle of the road, but it may allow ACORN to be a voice on both sides of the huge divide now splitting the city.
We will have to see what emerges in the coming days. We have not been huge Nagin fans, but now we have to somehow figure out a way to get him to work with all of us and rebuild New Orleans.
….at least for the next couple of years, because Ray will have to be thinking about bailing to run for Congress in Bill Jefferson’s seat now that Bill is hanging on by his fingernails against a mountain of pending indictments, cold cash, hot video, and search and seizures.
May 24, 2006