by Jeff Crouere
The candidate who was the first to enter the mayor’s race became the latest to exit an ever shrinking field. Last weekend, State Senator Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) joined insurance executive Leslie Jacobs on the sidelines of the mayor’s race. Recent polls showed Murray far behind frontrunner Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. At one point, Murray was considered the leading African American candidate; however, he was unable to raise sufficient funds and decided to fold his tent.
Murray campaigned for Mitch Landrieu four years ago and he just did not have the “fire in the belly” to attack the Lt. Governor and make this campaign racially divisive. He also does not have the personality to run a mayoral campaign. Murray is a perfect legislator, working behind the scenes to draft and pass legislation. Yet, he is not very outgoing and is actually quite shy. In contrast, New Orleans voters expect their mayors to be gregarious, outsized political personalities. Clearly, Murray does not fit that bill.
Like it or not, race is a strong indicator of voting patterns in New Orleans. In a city with a large African American majority, it stands to reason that an African American candidate will make the run-off. So, Murray’s withdrawal is a major boost to the chances of the three remaining African American candidates: Troy Henry, James Perry and Nadine Ramsey.
Will any of these candidates catch fire? For Perry and Ramsey, it all depends on whether they can raise the money in a tough economy and a short time frame. Henry has a personal fortune he can invest in the race, but he is an unknown who needs time to build name recognition in the community.
Another candidate who could benefit is white businessman John Georges. He has a personal fortune and has not been shy about attacking Landrieu. He did well among African American voters in the 2007 Governor’s race, but it remains to be seen whether African American voters will support him in huge numbers in this race.
With Murray’s withdrawal, Landrieu is even more of a frontrunner. The question will be whether the other candidates can force him into a run-off. Recent polls show Landrieu hovering around the 50% mark needed to avoid a run-off election. He could also benefit from the possibility that there will be other withdrawals before Election Day.
Clearly, Landrieu benefits from his family’s political dynasty in Louisiana and especially in New Orleans, his lofty political position as Lt. Governor and the voter’s remorse from four years ago. He lost to Nagin in 2006 and the results have been pretty disappointing for the vast majority of voters. Landrieu has paid his dues in New Orleans politics, running twice before and losing. For him, the third time may be the lucky charm. In this election, he is far and away the biggest political name, running against other candidates who have either never won an election or won an election without opposition.
With a February 6 election, a major problem for Landrieu’s challengers is that they are running out of time. The election will be held in less than one month and there are many distractions for voters. The candidates need to attract not only money, but attention and entice voters away from the Saints, the New Year and Mardi Gras.
For Mitch Landrieu, the tight time schedule is his best friend. If the election were held today, he could very well become Mayor without a run-off.
Making this race competitive will be a tall challenge for Landrieu’s opponents; however, they will have opportunities with upcoming televised forums. If Landrieu makes a big mistake, it might be the jolt the challengers need to get closer.
Jeff Crouere is the Host of “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. He is the Political Analyst for WGNO-TV ABC26 and a Columnist for selected publications. For more information, visit his web site at RingsidePolitics.com. E-mail him at [email protected].