If the turnout on Dec. 9 is anything like it was on Nov. 7, Bill Jefferson will not have much to cheer about. The 16-year congressman from Louisiana's Second District will more than likely be packing his bags in Washington and heading home after the final congressional race of the 2006 election cycle.
That is not to say he cannot win re-election. Anything is possible in Louisiana politics. However, finding the right metaphor to describe the narrowness of his chances is, well, challenging. Somehow the image of little green monkeys comes to mind, but even that seems a tad optimistic.
For a more concrete view of Jefferson's dilemma, one need only look at the numbers from Nov. 7, which I obtained from local consultant Greg Rigamer.
Overall, Jefferson ran first in the 13-candidate field with 30 percent of the vote, followed by state Rep. Karen Carter, who got 21.6 percent. The rest of the field looked like this: state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, 18 percent; attorney Joe Lavigne, 13.4 percent; former City Councilman Troy Carter, 12 percent; all others, 5 percent.
Official voter registration figures don't really reflect the post-Katrina realities in terms of who has returned and who turns out to vote. Both post-K variables work against Jefferson.
Officially, the district is 62 percent African American and 38 percent white and "other," which is mostly Asian and Hispanic. However, Rigamer estimates that the turnout on Nov. 7 was fairly close to 50/50 along racial lines, largely because so many poorer blacks remain displaced and because the turnout differential between white and black voters was significant. Roughly 34 percent of whites voted on Nov. 7, but slightly less than 17 percent of blacks went to the polls in the Second District.
A repeat of that turnout on Dec. 9 would be disastrous for Jefferson, who got less than 3.5 percent of the vote among whites, according to Rigamer. Among black voters, Jefferson led with almost 57 percent, followed by Shepherd with 16.7 percent and Carter with 12 percent.
Given the bad PR that "Dollar Bill" has endured since the feds retrieved $90,000 in cash from his freezer, his prospects for improvement among white voters don't look good. Meanwhile, Carter could well get 20 percent or more among blacks, given her credentials and the fact that many black voters are uncomfortable with the Jefferson scandal. Both Carter and Jefferson are black.
While the Dec. 9 runoff lacks the stark racial polarity that marked the mayoral runoff in May, there were distinct racial voting patterns on Nov. 7. Looking ahead, some say the contest could break along geographic lines. The district straddles Orleans and Jefferson parishes, and most Jefferson politicos lined up behind Shepherd in the primary, although Sheriff Harry Lee went with Troy Carter.
Karen Carter is said to have problems in Jefferson Parish because of remarks she made on the Spike Lee film, When The Levees Broke. I don't buy that. Something tells me voters in Jefferson Parish will overlook a stray comment a lot faster than they will ignore a stray $90,000 in their congressman's freezer. Besides, not everybody saw the Spike Lee film. But everybody knows about Jefferson's cold, hard cash.
On Dec. 9, turnout could again play a major role, but only if Jefferson can find a way to generate significantly higher turnout among black voters -- or significantly lower turnout among whites -- regardless of what parish they call home.
- Tracie Morris Schaefer
The Dec. 9 runoff for the Second District congressional seat pits state Rep. Karen Carter b>against incumbent Bill Jefferson.