Monday, December 7, 2009

Enter the Front-Runner

A shoe the size of the Muses parade’s Grand Marshall float dropped in the week of qualifying for mayor of New Orleans when word spread that Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu appears to be on the verge of making a third try for mayor of the state’s largest city.

That Landrieu would immediately become the front-runner is apparent; what isn’t is the reason why he renounced a bid back in July when polls showed him taking a sizable, if not insurmountable, plurality in a primary crowded with unknowns.

Had Landrieu announced then and there, his election would have been a virtual certainty. Candidates would have thought-twice of getting in, financially committing themselves and more importantly, it would have caused many of the big contributors to sit on their money for a little while longer.

Instead, Landrieu would jump into a race against two self-financed white Democrats and a black moderate Democrat who has received considerable business support. Even if the money men shift to Landrieu, many have already donated the maximum to his opponents.

One possible reason for Landrieu to enter the mayor’s race has to do with his increasingly limited political options.

Though he was handily re-elected to the state’s second office in 2007, Landrieu will never again have the luxury of drawing an unknown Republican legislator and Sammy Kershaw as opponents.

There was no chance of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal accepting Arizona US Senator John McCain’s invitation to serve as his running mate if their election resulted in the elevation of a Democrat and, worse yet in the eyes of Republican stalwarts, a Landrieu as governor. Such a transition of power would go about as smoothly as the shift between the Batista and Castro regimes.

So long as Landrieu is lieutenant governor, Jindal is tethered to a radiator on the fourth floor of Huey Long’s edifice.

The national and state Republican parties and perhaps Jindal himself will see to it that the governor will have much more political freedom in the future, which means Landrieu has to go.

With re-election removed as an option, Landrieu had three alternatives: US Representative for the Second District, governor or mayor.

Though serving in Congress would seem to be a natural shift for the younger brother of the state’s senior senator, the closed primary all but guarantees a black Democratic nominee in 2nd district.

Governor is a more attractive option to seeking re-election as it would be easier for him to raise money to face-off against Jindal than it would be for an office nobody, or rather no special interests, cares about.

A Jindal-Landrieu showdown in 2011 was likely up until the word got out that the lieutenant governor was looking at mayor again, a sign that the state Democrats have given up offering a significant challenger to the governor since Landrieu was by far Jindal’s most credible potential opponent.

More than likely, Landrieu looked at the numbers and surmised he had a better chance of winning over enough black voters against a likely black opponent for mayor of New Orleans than he did moving white moderates Democrats and independents against Jindal in a gubernatorial election.

Though it could be interpreted that Landrieu’s run for mayor is a sign of weakness, the scion of New Orleans’ last white mayor enters the race from a position of strength, even if he is somewhat tardy.

First, Landrieu has 100% name recognition. He doesn’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars making himself known.

Secondly, while the other candidates for mayor have resorted to dropping the f-bomb and employing other gimmicks to get noticed to gain traction and establish relevancy, Landrieu becomes the man to beat by virtue of announcing his intentions.

Thirdly, Louisiana’s Medicaid shortfall might not be the only beneficiary of Mary Landrieu’s tenuous support for health care. Mitch Landrieu is the only candidate for mayor who has the capacity to raise national money for a local office.

Now famous for her “$300,000,000 vote” for opening debate on the Democrat’s health care proposal in the US Senate, Mary can open doors for Mitch to contributors not necessarily interested in New Orleans politics but are willing strengthen her political position in a state that is anything but friendly to President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Fourthly, the Republican-machiavellian angle is no longer there. Four years ago, a Landrieu victory for mayor would have given then-Governor Kathleen Blanco an ally in the parish a Democratic candidate must carry overwhelmingly to win statewide. When Nagin, an avowed enemy of Blanco, was returned to office, there was little chance of Blanco running for re-election, thus eliminating an obstacle to Jindal's bid to win over north Louisiana.

Times and political fortunes have changed as Jindal would now be in a stronger political position if Landrieu left office early as he would be able to pick up a badly needed Republican lieutenant governor, and one of his choosing, in a low-turnout statewide special election without having to simultaneously run his re-election campaign. Furthermore, a Mitch Landrieu run for mayor 2010 practically eliminates him as a gubernatorial candidate in 2011.

Back in 2008 Jindal often joked how Mitch was encouraging McCain to put him on the Republican ticket; this year, Jindal might secretly root for Landrieu’s election as mayor.

Finally, there is the “I Told You So” factor, something that cannot be underestimated and cuts across party and racial lines. And therein lies the difference between Mitch Landrieu losing by 4% in 2006 and winning by 8% in 2010. Landrieu, or for that matter any other white candidate, will have an easier time finding a larger pool of black voters more open to voting for a white candidate than in those turbulent days less than a year removed from Hurricane Katrina.

As ironic as this statement might be, but nobody has done a better job preparing the political environment for a Landrieu mayoral bid than the outgoing mayor.

While it’s true the lieutenant governor might not have had much of a choice when pondering his long-term political future, Mitch Landrieu would enter the mayor’s race as the odds-on favorite

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