In about two weeks, New Orleans will vote for a new mayor. Wednesday night, WWL-TV released independent poll numbers that provide a glimpse into what the final results might be after polls close Feb. 6.
Mitch Landrieu has a commanding lead, with 45 percent of the vote and polled first among all demographic groups including whites, blacks, men and women. Only one other candidate, Troy Henry, is running in the double-digits with 14 percent. John Georges and Rob Couhig each have 8 percent. James Perry, who has badly overestimated the benefits of social media and the reach of a ‘net-based campaign, is running at an abysmal 3 percent. Nadine Ramsey is at 2 percent.
That certainly doesn’t mean the race is over. A candidate must earn more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election with the runner-up. So if the election were held today and these poll numbers were flawless, Mitch Landrieu and Troy Henry would square off in another election on March 6.
Yet, with 19 percent of voters undecided, Landrieu has a reasonable shot of avoiding a runoff. The prospect of such a consensus vote seemed impossible just weeks ago, but now I’d put the odds of a runoff election at 50/50.
The most difficult thing to digest, as a diligent observer of this election and local politics in general, is the high percentage of poll respondents who indicate that they haven’t heard enough or don’t know enough about many of the candidates. That voters feel so ill-informed about their choices is a stinging indictment of our local democracy.
Better-known candidates have no incentive to start campaigning until after the December qualifying period. Without major candidates active on the campaign trail, news organizations have little to report about the election.
So “campaign season” for this mayor’s primary race will only have amounted to a five- or six-week affair. That’s not much time to learn about the candidates and their platforms, especially for casual voters. And it doesn’t help that the usual Christmas-New Year’s-Mardi Gras distraction is joined by the Saints playoff distraction.
I hope others recognize the voter suppression inherent in the way New Orleans elects its mayor. I’d like to see the election moved to Election Day in November. More importantly, the qualifying deadline for candidates to appear on the ballot should be far enough in advance of the actual election to effectively force candidates into a longer campaign cycle.
Now, my candidate rankings:
6. Nadine Ramsey – At least she has some yard signs around town.
5. James Perry – I suspected he was polling badly, but not 3 percent badly. I would have guessed he would be at 5 percent or 6 percent. Perhaps the WWLTV’s poll methodology is missing some of Perry’s support among folks with out-of-town cell phone area codes.
4. Rob Couhig – It’s uncomfortable to even rank him as high as fourth considering how static his support is and will be. He has his base among mostly angry conservative white voters and that’s all he’s got.
3. John Georges – I don’t know if spending his entire multi-million dollar fortune would be enough to stop the steady march of support away from his candidacy since his laughable and patronizing rant to the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee made it online.
2. Troy Henry – Though the Morial family and Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau issued surprisingly scathing statements to distance themselves from his candidacy, Henry still has a legitimate opportunity to garner the endorsements of some African-American political leaders and the electoral support of the large block of undecided African-American voters. With only two weeks left to campaign, Henry won’t suddenly emerge from the pack to challenge Landrieu’s plurality – he doesn’t have to. Henry just needs to hope that he and the other five candidates can hold Landrieu to under 50% of the vote. He has an excellent shot of accomplishing that goal and earning a runoff spot.
1. Mitch Landrieu – There’s no denying that he is the definitive front-runner. His name recognition alone has given him a tremendous advantage. The most notable item from WWLTV’s poll is his nearly 2-to-1 plurality among African American respondents. In 2006, he picked up just about 20 percent of the black vote. That he’s doing so much better in the African American community than he did in his last citywide election spells trouble for Henry and is indicative of one of the ‘push factors’ that lead to State Sen. Ed Murray’s withdrawal from the election.