Columns » Clancy DuBos

A Watershed Election

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So, the state that put Edwin "The Crook" Edwards in a runoff against neo-Nazi David Duke in 1991 is about to elect either its first woman governor or its first ethnic Asian governor. Truly, this is an election for the history books.

But dig deeper and you'll see that the Kathleen Blanco-Bobby Jindal runoff was no accident. This election was a watershed in Louisiana politics for many reasons.

The most interesting changes, I think, were on the Democratic side. Conventional wisdom said that Blanco would fade in the final weeks. That's what moderate front-runners have always done under Louisiana's open-primary system.

Not this time.

Blanco held on to her Acadiana base and fared very well among women voters -- black and white -- statewide. That's a powerful coalition if she can build upon it in the runoff. Of course, women constitute one of the most loyal blocs of Republican voters as well, so no one can take women's votes for granted.

To win, Blanco will have to rely on an old Democratic staple: African-American voters. She already has a good supply of black women supporters, but she'll have to consolidate the votes won in the primary by fellow Democrats Richard Ieyoub, Buddy Leach and Randy Ewing. Which brings us to another watershed.

In recent elections, black voters in Louisiana typically had only one choice in the governor's race -- either Edwin Edwards or a black congressman. Not this year. Four white Democrats vied for their votes, particularly Leach and Ieyoub. Many prominent black leaders endorsed Leach, thanks to his large bankroll. But most voters weren't on Leach's payroll, so they largely went for Ieyoub, Blanco or Ewing.

In the final days of the primary, some folks remarked that Leach had poisoned the well for white candidates looking for black organizational support in the future. He reportedly paid such staggering sums for his black support that many feared the price in future races would be astronomical.

Then a funny thing happened -- the results came in.

Despite spending millions on a statewide get-out-the-vote effort, Leach and the other Democrats generated a paltry black turnout. In New Orleans, it was only about 35 percent. And that was with Congressman Bill Jefferson, SOUL and many others beating the bushes for him. Leach ran fourth overall with only 13.7 percent of the vote.

Rather than poisoning the well for future white candidates, Leach may have proved statewide what Mayor Ray Nagin proved in New Orleans during his 2002 mayoral campaign: the organizations and the so-called black "leaders" are impotent. History. Toastamundo.

Rather than raising the price, Leach may have ended the bidding war once and for all. If Jefferson, Cleo Fields and the traditional organizations couldn't even produce a 50 percent turnout with millions on the street, why pay them anything at all? By all accounts, black voters made up their own minds and no longer need -- or want -- any "leaders" to tell them how to vote.

Interestingly, Blanco spent zero dollars on black endorsements in the primary. She reportedly has sent a message that she has no intention of paying for black endorsements in the runoff either. It will be interesting to see how black leaders -- and voters -- respond to her.

On the Republican side, Jindal has resurrected talk radio as a powerful communications tool for conservatives. He effectively ran two campaigns at once -- a right-wing effort on radio and a more moderate one on television. It was brilliant and it worked. But what does he do now?

So, each candidate has a dilemma in the runoff. It's going to be one helluva contest.

The Kathleen Blanco-Bobby Jindal runoff was no - accident. This election was a watershed in Louisiana - politics for many reasons.
  • The Kathleen Blanco-Bobby Jindal runoff was no accident. This election was a watershed in Louisiana politics for many reasons.
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