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Landrieu pass illustrates weakening political position

There are two reasons why Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu seems to have closed the door on pursuing in 2010 the office his father held and one he twice has run for and appears to prize heavily, mayor of New Orleans – he can’t win because he’s white and his last name is Landrieu. In doing so, he also reveals his uncertain political future.

A 1994 run produced little result, but in 2006 Landrieu made the runoff and many thought he would win with a voting population near black-white parity. Despite being the least mono-racial election for New Orleans mayor in decades – an estimated 20 percent of blacks voted for Landrieu – still he lost to a deeply flawed and weakened incumbent Ray Nagin.

Since then, white candidates have won what in effect are city-wide elections – Arnie Fielkow and Jackie Clarkson have grabbed at-large city council spots although the latter in a special election, and Leon Cannizaro got elected as District Attorney with President Barack Obama on the ballot just last year. But Landrieu’s problem is that his name is not so much associated with his father that might help him with black voters relative to stronger black candidates, but his own and his sister’s that will hurt him relative to white voters.

What Landrieu learned in 2006 is that his support was a mile wide but an inch deep. Even facing the likes of the ridiculed Nagin, he could not entice enough black voters to abandon the incumbent that more than offset his solid white support, but at the same time too many whites see him as too liberal, in part because of professed comfort with big government, in part because he is linked with his sister Sen. Mary Landrieu, for him to stimulate the disproportionate white turnout that would vote for him to beat a quality black opponent.

Being lieutenant governor provides a steady paycheck and it’s the kind of job where it’s difficult to knock off an incumbent, but it’s typically dead-end. Until former Gov. Kathleen Blanco made the leap in 2003, it had not happened electorally. Craven ambition will lead Landrieu to want to vacate his present post eventually, and it is unlikely that conditions ever will change for him to make the mayorality of New Orleans likely. Thus, governor would be the next logical step, but whether in 2011 is another matter.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has had a rough spot here and there but at this point – and two years is a long time politically – he should not have much trouble for reelection purposes and still enjoys high popularity. Landrieu may be wondering whether Jindal will make a stab at the presidency in 2012 which would really require for him to have any chance of success that Jindal stand down for 2011. Recent policy failures by Obama especially as the economy continues to deteriorate and the essential exclusion of two strong opponents, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin voluntarily and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford somewhat less so, may encourage such a Jindal run, but chances are still that Jindal will wait until 2016 for additional burnishment of his record and possibly facing no incumbent for the White House if he chooses to run for it.

Thus, Landrieu probably will have to wait until 2015, creating plenty of time for other contestants for the state’s top job to emerge. Therefore, the real lesson of this admission of Landrieu’s is he lacks strength to go after what he wants now, and needs to wait out and hope for favorable contingencies to advance his ageing political career.

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