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Couhig nod gives Nagin a strategy to win runoff

With defeated New Orleans candidate Rob Couhig endorsing the incumbent Ray Nagin, who finished the primary at 38 percent, 9 percent ahead of runner-up Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, a stroll through some post election statistics shows how Nagin can win the general election runoff.

Let’s assume that, partially as a result of the endorsement, a quarter of Couhig voters go for Nagin, a quarter pull the lever for Landrieu, and the other half are so disgusted that a status quo candidate will win that they roll off and don’t participate at all. A wash like this is to Nagin’s advantage, for two reasons: first, because he led the primary, every vote eliminated or that he can offset gets him closer to victory, all other things equal.

But, second and more intriguingly, as expected Couhig performed best in the precincts that turned out the most voters both in raw numbers and turnout percentage. If you divide precincts by the number of votes cast into quintiles, in the highest two Couhig averaged over 13 percent of the vote – precincts where Nagin’s advantage over Landrieu was only about 4 percent. It’s the bottom three quintiles, where Couhig averaged less than 6 percent, where Nagin really hammered Landrieu – on average about 26 percent.

This means if Nagin can fight with Landrieu to a draw for Couhig voters, he will have eliminated a major cache of votes for Landrieu to pick up that comprise much of the lowest-growth area for runoff voters. But merely negating this is not enough to provide a victory, because Nagin did best in the lowest vote population precincts (lowest quintile containing 45,175 registrants; the highest, 82,396). Nagin also must manufacture new votes for himself.

The highest-growth areas for potential votes, the lowest three quintiles, heavily favored Nagin in the primary. Not surprisingly, they also had the lowest participation rates, with Nagin’s margin growing as participation declined. Thus, any increased voting here (where the highest proportion of the electorate is black; 49.4 percent of the highest quintile is, but 83.6 percent of the lowest quintile is) will mean almost all of these new votes would accrue to Nagin.

(And a reason why these areas, which supported Nagin most heavily, had the lowest turnout was they disproportionately comprised the ravaged areas. Which means that these people least wanted a change in government even thought they were hit the worst by the storms, and Nagin is favored among them even more since as time marches on these voters increasingly comprise returnees coming into town through May 20.)

Nagin’s problem is that a large chunk of another defeated rival’s voter, Ron Forman’s, are likely to head Landrieu’s way, and they disproportionately comprised the top quintiles. Even if Nagin could draw 20 percent of that vote, Landrieu still would squeak by even given the scenario outlined above concerning Couhig’s voters. Thus, his strategy also must create new votes in the high-growth areas – not an easy job given they are the most likely ones to be displaced. But more evidence that there’s room for growth for him out there is among the absentee totals (largely that of displaced voters) he polled about the same as for all voters, while Landrieu actually polled 6 points higher.

Nagin’s best chance to win, therefore, is a two-pronged strategy of playing up on anti-Landrieu sentiments, hoping to drive Couhig voters away from Landrieu and either into Nagin’s arms or to the sidelines (and this should pick up some Forman voters, too), which blocks Landrieu vote growth in his areas of greatest potential gain, and concentrating on the low-turnout precincts, which hold the greatest growth potential to create new voters for him. Again, this isn’t going to be easy, but it is possible and represents Nagin’s best shot to win.

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