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Presumed goal makes plausible Nagin governor run now

A run at governor would suit a dilettante, erratic politician like New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin just for the novelty of it, but probably he really has something else in mind, the strategy for which has become clearer as qualification for the office beginning next week draws nearer.

As I mused awhile back, Democrat Nagin could be interested in the office, even though he knows it is highly unlikely that he ever could win, as a set-up for a run for the U.S. House in 2008 or before depending on how quickly the current occupant Rep. William Jefferson might be forced out or cashiered over corruption charges and/or convictions. The theory is that even a losing battle statewide might help Nagin because his entrance would help gubernatorial frontrunner Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal secure the office by fragmenting leftist votes further, perhaps even getting Nagin into the general election runoff, and making a Gov. Jindal more friendly to city government that would help improve Nagin’s image, as well as “branding” him now for the run next year (Nagin is found of the concept of “branding”).

Still, why raise money and spend it on a statewide run if you are interested in a much more geographically-compact federal office – especially when just last year one ran a successful campaign in largely the same area? Worse, would that not detract from donations that could be used for a congressional run as donor fatigue could set in with races three years in a row? And why help out Jindal when Jindal didn’t lift a finger to help Nagin in his mayoral run – indeed, even to pay back Nagin for his support of Jindal in the previous governor’s race – especially since Jindal doesn’t seem to need his help to win?

True, but there are some good reasons for him to run now that mitigate these concerns. Campaigning starting now may help Nagin build a coalition vital to winning the House seat next year. In his mayoral reelection bid, among blacks really Nagin had the field to himself but that will be different for Jefferson’s seat with experienced black politicians such as state Rep. Karen Carter and state Sen. Derrick Shepherd again running for that office. In short, he must maintain as much of that 80 percent black vote base that he got in the mayoral election as he can.

One way to do so would be to assist black candidates for the Legislature this fall, by having his name on the gubernatorial ballot to stimulate their turnout. The hope would be that these extra voters would give a boost to downballot black candidates. In 2003, such assistance was moot since ethnic patterns in New Orleans districts tended to be fairly monoracial creating safe districts for black candidates. But in the aftermath of the hurricane disasters of 2005 and the subsequent disruption of voting blocs, some of these districts may be at risk not just for black candidates, but even Democrat candidates. Nagin’s running now could make the difference in keeping one or more of these offices in black Democrat hands and this would collect major favors from local black Democrat leaders and candidates – which can be translated into support in a House contest.

Yet that may not be enough to win given his presumed black opposition so Nagin also may want to use a gubernatorial campaign now to build up some white voter support as well. Especially with a new account out about Nagin’s mayoral career, one thing that appears from it is that Nagin is distrustful of Democrat Party officials and politicians. By entering the race and making it almost impossible for Jindal to lose, Nagin may be thumbing his nose at the Democrat establishment and build up some goodwill among Republican voters, campaigning in a way now and in the future to try to convince them that there will be a black Democrat elected from New Orleans to Congress, but that of all the choices he would be the least liberal and/or beholden to the Democrats. (If his entry also threw the governor’s race into a runoff forcing Jindal to go another round to win, that might also be some payback to Jindal for his lack of support of Nagin in 2006).

So there are some highly nuanced reasons why it does make sense for Nagin to run now, besides that it just might jibe with his personality quirks.

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