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Nagin mayoral win not beyond realm of reality

Conventional wisdom gives Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu the edge in the general election runoff for New Orleans mayor against incumbent Ray Nagin on May 20. Months ago, I didn’t think Nagin had a chance after his subpar performance in dealing with Hurricane Katrina. But don’t count out Nagin yet.

A superficial look at the election returns points to Landrieu defeating his fellow Democrat. Even if Nagin led Landrieu by 9 points, with only 38 percent of the primary vote that usually does not bode well for an incumbent. Further, it is reasonable to assume that Landrieu is advantaged by the fact that the vast majority of Nagin’s voters appear to have been black while many whites voters probably voted for people who did not make the runoff. Observe how precincts vote proportions played out, broken down into four categories of low black population (0-25 percent), medium black population (25-70 percent), high black population (70-90 percent), and very high black population (90-100 percent):

Low: Ron Forman, 32.33 percent; Mitch Landrieu, 31.65 percent; Rob Couhig, 21.89 percent, Ray Nagin, 8.76 percent
Medium: Nagin, 33.89; Landrieu 30.62; Forman, 18.25; Couhig, 10.06
High: Nagin, 59.41; Landrieu 24.91; Forman, 7.02; Couhig, 3.20
Very high: Nagin, 69.81; Landrieu 21.67; Forman, 2.21; Couhig, 0.70

It’s logical to assume that these whites would be much more likely to Landrieu. But that may not be correct because they have another choice – not to vote at all. In the 2002 contest, while about 1 percent fewer blacks chose to vote in the general election than primary election, 2.5 percent of white rolled off. But this figure could be much higher since in 2002 Nagin was considered a tolerable vote for white conservatives given his business background and sharp contrast to other candidates, without any quality Republican running in the primary.

However, this time out, a considerable portion of people who supported Couhig may declare a pox on all houses, given their disappointment in Nagin and long-time distrust of Landrieu. In fact, when post-election statistics become available it may happen that white turnout actually was higher this year than 2002 because Couhig offered a real choice. With a candidate like him not on the runoff ballot, these voters (almost all white) may write off the whole election and not vote for, as one might first think, for Landrieu.

The other dynamic at work is another 28 days will pass while a disproportionate part of those returning to the city are black. My conjecture that the city’s population would be about 53.7 percent black in Orleans on Apr. 22 may well be within a fraction of the correct total, if we take anecdotal reports as accurate. By May 20, my projections have another registered about 1,500 white Democrats and about 1,000 Republicans returning, but also around 3,500 more black Democrats.

So, it’s possible to envision the following scenario. Let’s say Couhig’s (and marginal candidate Peggy Wilson’s) vote represent those who want a real choice in the contest and see Landrieu and Nagin as echoes of each other, so none of them vote. Let’s also assume that the rolloff difference in 2002 of 1.5 percent more for whites than blacks represents a portion of the vote for Forman, but that the remainder will vote for Landrieu. Also, let’s assume the Rev. Tom Watson’s supporters faithfully vote for Nagin while other candidates’ split and net out. Finally, let’s say that of new voters on the ground on May 20, Nagin picks up an extra 1,000 compared to Landrieu (assuming half of the Democrats returning vote, blacks for Nagin, whites for Landrieu, and the Republicans opt out entirely).

Taking the primary numbers, Nagin led Landrieu by about 10,000. Landrieu would pick up around 18,000 from Forman, minus rolloff of several hundred. Adding Watson’s votes would make Landrieu’s margin about up 6,000, and the “new” voters puts it down to 5,000. Keep in mind that almost all of Forman’s vote here is assumed to go to Nagin. Thus, if Nagin can capture just 15 percent, of Forman’s vote, he can win. That’s not impossible, given Nagin was getting some percentage of the white vote and doing well among blacks.

Change the assumption about Couhig’s and Wilson’s votes and have some of them show up and vote for Landrieu makes Nagin’s task harder. We can assume most who voted for Forman would vote for Landrieu because they wanted change from Nagin, and so that portion becomes a harder nut for Nagin to crack as more for those Republican-candidate voters slide into Landrieu columns.

Still, Nagin winning is not an unreasonable expectation. It’s going to depend on what the Couhig and Wilson voters do, and who all comes back to the city in the next month, above and beyond the mobilization efforts of the campaigns. And that proposition was hard to believe when the elections were ordered a couple of months ago.


oyster said...

Interesting that you can now imagine a Nagin victory when you previously considered it impossible.

But how can any serious analysis say that something is dependent on Wilson's voters? As you said below, she's a non-factor.

Wouldn't Virginia Boulet's 2500 votes, whom you omit to mention, be much more significant?

Jeff Sadow said...

Yes, it surpises me. "Imagine" is a good word since I think the odds still are with Landrieu, but I did used to think he had no chance. There's some more stuff I haven't had a chance yet to confirm, waiting on the releasal of post-election data, which makes me think now Nagin's got a decent shot.

Wilson's and Watson's voters, or lack of them, could make a difference in a close election. Boulet's fall into that category I mentioned where they would go evenly. Or maybe not at all, if they turn out to be the liberal version of Wilson's and Couhig's and like them are not jacked at a Nagin or Landrieu candidacy of the same old politicians. That's why I suspect hers won't be much of a factor since either scenario won't give either canddiate an advantage whereas if Wilson's voted, they'd probably disproportionately break for Landrieu.

oyster said...

I live in Uptown, Boulet's alleged "base", and had a strong feeling that the white uptown liberals would support Mitch over Nagin by a significant majority. But you've made me think about it some, and now I'm not so sure. I think it's possible that she might seriously entertain a Nagin endorsement. I would predict she ultimately endorses Mitch and that her supporters will vote for Mitch by, say, 75-25 with perhaps a slightly reduced turnout.

On the other hand, indications are that Rev. Watson is more likely to endorse Mitch than Ray. (How his congregation votes is another story, but it seems Watson does not like Nagin.)

I think Mitch will win a 51.5-49.5% squeaker unless Ray makes another "chocolate city" blunder or... OR if more details about the city heading for imminent bankruptcy start leaking to the press.

So many factors, so many variables. But history hasn't been kind to those who underestimated the campaign skills of Ray Nagin, and veteran campaign consultant Jim Carvin. All they do is win.