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Jefferson almost certainly upcoming primary loser

Quite a salient question is whether Rep. Bill Jefferson on Sep. 6 will make the Democrat primary runoff for his current position. Things would get quite interesting if he did, but chances are that he won’t despite his opinion to the contrary.

Certainly a poll commissioned by opponent Troy Carter’s campaign, on top of a previous poll that showed Jefferson battling with other at the 12 percent mark, casts doubt on Jefferson’s ability to continue into another term. In it, Jefferson’s not even cruising near the top; it says he languishes in the single digits of support. At the same time, it bears recalling that Jefferson was considered embattled in his last election as rumored indictments swirled around him yet pulled out the win.

But conditions have changed in two years. Rumor has turned into fact, along with accompanying indictments of other politically-connected Jefferson family members. His caused the stripping of any positions of influence from him within Congress. As important although not generally recognized as such, the change from the blanket primary to closed primaries also will not work to his advantage.

Before Hurricane Katrina, with the winner of the district by the numbers almost certainly having to be a black Democrat, Orleans parish political organizations in the black community were the main jousters in this competition. Leading the Progressive Democrats, Jefferson could at worst compete with anybody easily for this office and other organizations knew it and did not seriously compete for it.

But the storm weakened all of these organizations and Jefferson’s suffered an additional blow with his legal troubles. However, with the advent of the closed primary, other organizations for this office were able to re-coup (yes, bad pun for those of you who know something about New Orleans black democrat politics) some of their strength because their powers became more concentrated. That is, relative now to a primary where Republicans cannot compete, these organizations no longer have to account for the vagaries of GOP voters in an election, and also a fair chunk of the white vote has disappeared as well, leading to the same favorable outcome for these groups.

But the Progressive Democrats will have a much harder time controlling parts of the electorate because of the blows to Jefferson’s reputation. That much was clear when, gunning for the state Senate, his daughter former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock got trounced by one of her less-prominent colleagues, now state Sen. Cheryl Gray.

The impact of the closed primary also has an effect separate from interaction with changes in relative power of political groups as it increases the non-black proportion of the electorate. Under the blanket primary system, blacks would have had about 62 percent of the electorate; under the closed primary system they have 55.7 percent of it.

This consideration redounds to the advantage of former reporter Helena Moreno, who is the only non-black candidate in the contest, and thereby to the disadvantage of Jefferson. Even if she picked up only half of this vote, it puts her in an excellent position for the runoff.

The primary form actually helps Jefferson in that the Jefferson Parish proportion of the population drops about five percent to just over a quarter, reducing the advantage of any Jefferson-based candidate. But there is one in the contest, Jefferson Parish councilor Byron Lee, backed by perhaps the leading parish figure Sheriff Newell Normand, creating another threat to muscle Jefferson out of a runoff.

Other candidates could pose a threat. State Rep. Cedric Richmond has picked up key endorsements from politicians and the area’s Alliance for Good Government. New Orleans City Councilman James Carter recently got elected and has a fresh electoral base on which to draw. Former councilor Troy Carter ran in 2006 and appears by polling to have the broadest appeal. (Former New Orleans official Kenya Smith appears to have no real chance to make the runoff.)

But these others also have their warts, which is why Jefferson has reason for optimism. Richmond’s political base remains decimated from the storm and he faces censure over professional conduct. James Carter may suffer backlash seeking higher office less than two years after winning his current one. Troy Carter appears to be the most popular second choice but whether he can do better than third in first-choice ballots remains unanswered. Even Lee seems by polling to be underperforming in Jefferson, and Moreno must demonstrate she can make the transition from media star to political glad-hander to solidify a majority of the white vote.

So if sufficient fractures remain in the electorate, Jefferson could sneak into a runoff. The real key is how the roughly three-eighths undecided vote fragments. At this point in a contest with an incumbent running such a high number shows considerable dissatisfaction with the incumbent. However, it’s one thing for Jefferson not to be competitive with these voters; it’s another thing they’ll vote for another candidate in that its takes an additional step to get them, or enough of them, into another candidate’s column.

Simply, one or more of the challengers have to prove they can be an adequate replacement for Jefferson. If this does not happen, many either will roll off entirely on the contest, or they’ll vote for Jefferson anticipating a “do-over” when he is convicted and almost certainly removed from office with a (hopefully) fresh slate of candidates. The proper way to conceive the undecided non-Republicans at this point is not that they can’t make up their minds about which challenger to choose, it’s whether any of them are worth choosing.

If at least one can make a semi-compelling case for their candidacies, Jefferson is finished, and chances seem good that will happen. But if not, Jefferson has a non-trivial chance of gaining a runoff, and then the dynamics of the race could get unpredictable depending upon who his opponent would be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yesterday the Times Picayune endorsed Cedric Richmond.