BAYHAM: Mitch’s Landslide, Part II

Back in October 2013, a UNO poll showed that New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu enjoyed a robust approval rating of 65%.

On February 1st 2014, the voters backed the poll’s figures up, delivering for the mayor a 64% landslide victory for a second term, about a point less than his percentage from four years ago.

Just as noteworthy as Landrieu’s majority was the almost inverse percentage of voters who bothered to participate, with an anemic 34% turnout.

People tend to skip out on elections for four reasons: obscurity of the office being contested (almost any given special election), a very negative campaign that depresses participation by turning voters off from the candidates (see the 2012 presidential election), a perceived inevitability of the outcome and general satisfaction with the status quo.

The last two reasons are the likely explanations for the low turnout in the 2014 city elections despite Landrieu drawing a significant opponent, since the mayor accentuated the positive about himself in his campaign and largely ignored his opponents and their barbs.

Landrieu’s broad appeal resonated across class and racial lines, winning over 80% of the white vote and roughly half the black electorate.

Though an underdog since his late entry into the campaign, former (and potential future) Judge Michael Bagneris’s paltry 33% had to be sobering, despite the diverse support her received from the police union, the Orleans Parish Republican Party and numerous city political tickets that formerly dominated their wards, underscoring the decreased influence those organizations have in this new era of city politics.

Landrieu’s bid for a second term received indirect boosts from the beginning of his predecessor’s trial and the ice storm that largely shutdown the New Orleans area.

Those Republicans who bucked Landrieu and backed Nagin eight years ago might have been less inclined to cross Mitch in 2014 with the aftershock of the 2006 mayoral race rumbling along the federal courthouse steps on Camp Street.

Landrieu shined as a crisis manager, exuding competence in the barrage of press conferences held during the ice storm. Not that the mayor needed it but “Leon” (the name for the winter storm) was for Landrieu what Hurricane Sandy was for President Barack Obama.

Also with everyone stuck home watching the news, Orleans Parish voters were exposed to Landrieu’s substantial campaign media buys highlighting his accomplishments in office.

That New Orleans in no way resembled the traffic snarl hell that paralyzed Atlanta provided a beneficial contrast.

The mayor’s election wasn’t the only contest where the politics of race were nary a factor.

African-American Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell led all election day winners with 72%, attracting considerable support from predominantly white precincts despite being opposed by a white candidate while incumbent councilwoman-at-large Stacy Head only finished two points behind Landrieu’s majority in her successful bid for a second term.

Head had prevailed by less than 300 votes in a racially polarizing special election in 2012.

Though Landrieu said in a forum he would serve out his entire second term if re-elected, it would not be surprising if in early 2015 the mayor announced that he felt an obligation to “answer the call of the people” to run for Louisiana’s highest office.

Bear in mind that in 2010 Landrieu had renounced a bid for mayor before jumping in the race.

Those who would resent Landrieu most for not keeping that pledge probably would not vote for him anyway.

Landrieu is the only Democrat who possesses the capacity to raise serious funds, a record of winning statewide (twice elected to lieutenant governor by margins of 33% (2003) and 27% (2007) and strong crossover appeal.

And unlike his older sister, Mitch proved that he is largely immune from national politics as a late attack by pro-Bagneris Republicans barely shaved his running up the score in the conservative bastion of Lakeview.

Even if Mary loses re-election in November or in the December runoff, Mitch would be able to wage a bid for governor focused solely on state issues without being tethered to the national issues that are currently a political millstone around his sister’s neck.

Short of a self-funder entering the race, Mitch Landrieu is the lone first-tier candidate Louisiana Democrats are able to offer for governor. Anyone else will have a hard time just making the runoff.

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