Going into November 2013 New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s re-election appeared a sure thing and the city was going to have its first boring mayoral election since 1998 when incumbent Mayor Marc Morial steamrolled over token opposition.
Landrieu has been a dynamic political figure who is popular in both the white and black communities, as attested by approval ratings in the 60 percentile. In his 2010 election for mayor, Landrieu handily carried every demographic and vote group.
Also contributing to the air of inevitability in Landrieu’s favor was the fact that a sitting New Orleans mayor has not been defeated for re-election since Robert Maestri was turned out of office by deLesseps “Chep” Morrison in 1946.
For a sitting incumbent not burdened with any great scandal, it came as a shock that potent opposition manifested itself out of the blue with the surprise entry into the race by Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, who has not been on the ballot in 21 years.
One major publication cried conspiracy.
The Gambit speculated that the Bagneris candidacy was part of some “vast right wing conspiracy” to handicap/complicate what will be a tough re-election campaign for the mayor’s older sister, US Senator Mary Landrieu.
The logic goes that by running a black candidate for mayor a substantial number of black Orleanians will vote against one Landrieu in February and vote against another in November.
The other part of the theory is that Mitch will be compelled to exhaust his campaign treasury in January so he cannot hand it over to Mary in November.
Both trains of logic are derailed by the reality of recent political history and campaign finance law.
Black voters have proven that they were willingly to rally back to Mary’s standard even after voting overwhelmingly against Mitch.
In 2006 African-American voters in Orleans Parish went heavily against Mitch Landrieu in the mayor’s race (with one estimate having Nagin carrying as much as 80% of the black vote). Two years later black voters helped give Mary Landrieu 83% in Orleans Parish.
There was absolutely no carry-over of ill will by the black community for the Landrieu family. Not even a slight dip.
Secondly, the most Mitch Landrieu could directly donate from his campaign fund to his sister’s federal election campaign treasury is a paltry $2,600. The alternative would be for the mayor to dump it to the state or national Democratic party committees, an unlikely prospect since Mitch could use leftover money for any non-federal election. Having amassed over $6 million for 2014, Mary hardly needs to raid her brother’s modest campaign account for her re-election.
Also Judge Bagneris doesn’t strike me as a willing pawn of Dick Cheney. Having served in “Dutch” Morial’s City Hall and likely bored with his two decades on the bench, perhaps Bagneris saw a path to victory in 2014 or possibly the chance to lay down the foundation for a strong bid to succeed Landrieu in 2018 if he has a respectable showing.
Either is more plausible than saying that Bagneris is doing the work of the Grand Old Party.
Though heavily outspent and having not registered high in the polls, Bagneris is an underdog with the potential to grow.
The former judge has been endorsed by the Orleans Parish Democratic Party and most importantly by almost all the major neighborhood political machines including SOUL, COUP, LIFE and BOLD.
While these election organizations do not wield the same clout they enjoyed prior to Hurricane Katrina, they still have considerable influence, especially in turning out votes Bagneris needs to be competitive.
Support for Bagneris is visible throughout predominantly black neighborhoods as his signs are everywhere and not just on neutral grounds and vacant lots.
Yet even with a strong performance in black precincts, the political math doesn’t work for Bagneris without seizing a chunk of the white vote.
To that end he has shrewdly directed his electronic media campaign messaging towards white voters by railing against the city’s crime problem and blasting Landrieu on ethics.
Enter the “GOPetite Cabal.”
In contrast to the Gambit’s aforementioned hyperventilating, these aren’t the powerful GOP money people (those can be found on Landrieu’s campaign finance report, not Bagneris’s) but a small group of Republican officials motivated by the previously discussed (and discredited) agenda aiming to kneecap Landrieu with a limited last minute campaign blitz targeting conservative voters.
And while Republican voters are not enamored with the Landrieu family, not even the blessing of the Orleans Parish Republican Committee is enough to move Romney voters to Bagneris’s column.
Republicans will not be second lining behind their party officials in locking arms with SOUL this week/century.
Landrieu will likely run up the score with white voters (despite the tardy efforts of the “GOPetite Cabal”) while winning a large share of the black community, even if the mayor fails to secure a majority or even a plurality, to secure a modest primary victory of 53% on Saturday.
And the very activists (volunteer and otherwise) waving signs against Mitch Landrieu on February 1st will be waving signs on the same street corners for Mary Landrieu on November 4th.