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Nagin governor run features unusual political calculus (headline link feature isn't working)

Why would New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ever consider running for Louisiana Governor? Maybe because (and perhaps only in Louisiana) a black Democrat and Asian Republican working together can get the office they each really want – which isn’t the same one.

And that one would not be the governorship for Democrat Nagin. Surely he knows the only possible office he could win was one where black voters significantly outnumber whites, given the absolute mess he helped make of the Katrina hurricane disaster before, during, and (many still argue continuing) after. That electoral dynamic was the case in New Orleans last year, but definitely is not true regarding the entire state now.

No, the office Nagin really would be interested in is one of a few roughly in the same geographic area, is substantial, and is the only one coming open in the near future: the Second District Congressional seat. Given his indictment, current occupant Rep. William Jefferson will not last past the 2008 election, if he is not run out of the House sooner either through the Constitutional removal process or by succumbing to pressure to quit.

But making a statewide race a warmup to a contest whose constituency largely overlaps the same one encompassed by his present office, with plenty of chances to build (he would hope) positive name recognition seems wasteful of resources. It’s here where a putative opponent of Nagin’s, Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, comes into play.

At one time there were good feelings between Nagin and Jindal – so much in fact that Jindal won Nagin’s endorsement for the 2003 governor’s contest. However, Jindal did not reciprocate during the mayor’s race so it would seem Nagin owes Jindal nothing even as Nagin’s entry into the race would benefit Jindal more than any other candidate.

In a field of floundering Democrats already, Nagin would pull mostly black votes from them, dashing the already slim hopes that either state Sen. Walter Boasso or Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell have of making a general election runoff, or even of being able to create one by denying Jindal more than half of the primary vote. Indeed, Nagin might outpace the others to get into a runoff if there is one, a race he cannot win. Either way, election of Jindal becomes an even surer thing.

So why do Jindal another favor by entering? Because a Nagin run at governor would be more than a primer for a congressional run: it also could be a way to get a sympathetic governor into office that could provide useful for Nagin’s political ambitions. Neither Boasso nor Campbell is fond of the way politics are done in New Orleans. Ideologically nor is Jindal, but if Nagin assists him in this way, Jindal, already looking pretty good, upon election might be willing to open up more state aid to New Orleans, which will make Nagin look better and give him something to run on for Congress. Further, Jindal may help behind the scenes a Nagin House candidacy and gets an ally in Congress if Nagin can win, neutralizing what almost surely much more hostile potential occupants of that seat.

Jindal and Nagin may never have spoken to each other about this, but don’t bet against the two of them separately computing the political calculus along these lines on this one.

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