With just days remaining until qualifying opens for the fall elections, rumors abound about possible surprise candidates, both in the party primaries and general elections, that could throw the carefully planned schemes of the front-runners aft astray--as was well demonstrated on Monday morning when Councilman At-Large Thomas Capella decided to abandon the Parish President's race and run for Assessor.
The Councilman's announcement sent shockwaves through the local political world, and began speculation as to whether West Bank Councilman Chris Roberts would instead run in Capella's place. The decision propels John Young into position for an easy victory in the President's race, but the fact that a West Bank candidate, like Roberts, may stand in Capella's stead, insuring a competitive contest, is good news for both Lt. Gubernatorial candidate Roger Villere and 2nd District Congressman Joseph Cao.
The development shows how last minute candidates qualifying (or not) on July 7-9th, threaten to change the very nature of the October primaries and who actually ends up in the November runoffs and general elections in not just the Parish President's race, but in the Second Congressional contest as well. With long-time Orleans Sewerage & Water Board member Tommie Vassel strongly considering an Independent bid in the 2nd District House race; rumors abounding about new potential candidates in that Congressional Democratic primary, such as former State Rep. Irma Muse Dixon, Kenner Councilman Gregory Carroll, and current State Senator Karen Carter Peterson; Lawrence Chehardy’s resignation altering the field of candidates in the Jeff Parish President’s race; and the continuing watch as to whether a Democrat will actually enter the Lt. Governor’s contest--radically changing the runoff dynamics, some frontrunners are biting their proverbial fingernails until qualifying closes at 5 pm on July 9th.
The closest watch in on the Democratic Primary where speculation centers on whether former Congressional candidate and newly elected State Senator Karen Carter will challenge frontrunner State Rep. Cedric Richmond and his fellow announced candidate State Rep. Juan Lafonta. Right now, the primary is Richmond’s to lose. He enjoys wide support across both parishes and ethnicities, enjoying the backing of recently retired Orleans Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau and Gretna Police Chief Arthur Larson, as well as a slew of State Reps of both races.
Still anxiety remains as to whether Richmond is strong enough in a general election against sitting GOP Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao, especially if Tommie Vassel, a rising political star in the city, decides to run as a third party candidate. Not only would that divide the vote; polling suggests that a well known and respected candidate like Vassel, who promises to caucus with the Democrats, would have an even money chance of victory. (Vassel has told The Louisiana Weekly that he is “strongly leaning towards the race”.)
Regardless, a perception, real or imagined, that Richmond’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep--and could be defeated by Cao, if the Vietnamese Republican gained a plurality in a three way race--has led some prominent Democrats to urge Carter Peterson to jump into the race at the last minute (much the same way that Mitch Landrieu did in the Mayor’s race) as the champion and savior.
Her path to victory would be far from improbable. Carter Peterson enjoys extensive support amongst White and Black Middle Class Democrats, where Richmond is weakest, and in the Gay Community, which is Lafonta's political base. The only constituency in the African-American community without a champion remains the Black Churches, with their influential clergy, and Richmond has had considerable difficulties in breaking through with and gaining the support of the African-American ministerial community. So much so, that Joseph Cao hired former national SCLC Pres., Rev. Bryon Clay of Kenner, a man who some of his Clerical colleagues had urged to run for Congress himself, as his out-reach coordinator to the Black Churches--a Republican move of the Christian Black vote that underscores Richmond’s weaknesses.
Not that Karen Carter Peterson is all that influential with this group either. She lost their support and, some argue, the 2006 Congressional race to Bill Jefferson when her pro-choice voting record was highlighted by the scandel-plagued Congressman. Church-going African-Americans (and Whites for that matter) choose to vote for the ethically challenged rather than a candidate that disagreed with them on the critical abortion issue.
Richmond is pro-choice as well, though, like Carter and unlike Jefferson. It is the partial reason that some Black ministers have urged one of their favorites, former State Rep. Irma Muse Dixon to run for Congress. She just lost a State Senate race against Carter Peterson, by a large margin, but in a divided field, the power of the Black Church’s electorate plays a stronger role. In a Democratic Congressional primary where conservative Black Christians have no champion, Muse Dixon has a core of support.
That is bad news if Carter Peterson does not run, and doubly bad news if she does.
If the State Senator does not stand and Muse Dixon does, “Irma” as all know her makes what was supposed to be a relatively pro-forma Democratic primary for Richmond VERY expensive, as the state representative has to woo voters to his social right and left from Lafonta and Dixon. He has a battle to get 50% in the September first party primary and may face a runoff.
A runoff Richmond is assured of if Carter Peterson does make a bid, having to woo those constituencies and the White Democrats that the State Senator has proven time and again she can win. Such a party runoff might not be Richmond’s proverbial Waterloo, given the breath of his party institutional support already, but to take the metaphor further, it would be as Wellington described the famed battle “a close run thing”.
Then, with money diminished and supporters exhausted, Richmond would be likely to face both Vassel and Cao in a general election where the winner could emerge victorious with less than 35% of the vote, a simple plurality. Considering that Vassel will have money and likely endorsements of well known people and organizations, and can simply argue that his Independent bid is no different than what the election law will be after Jan. 1, an open jungle primary where anyone can run as an equal, he will present Richmond--should the Democratic candidate get this far--with his best challenge yet among White and Black Democratic voters.
And do not forget that Joseph Cao has considerable bipartisan support of his own, reaffirmed by his decision to vote with President Obama on the Financial Reform Bill. He might draw a primary challenger. A few possible candidates had speculated about doing so after the first pro-Health care bill vote. Some insiders, in recent days, have speculated that another Republican could be waiting in the wings to stand against Cao because of his GOP “apostasy”, as its described by some, on this and other issues.
Having to fight a primary like Richmond might deplete the Congressman's coffers, but should Cao escape a challenge do to his first vote for the Health Care Bill as well as this most recent Wall Street regulatory example, votes not popular with core GOP voters, he would enter the general election with more money than Richmond. (Richmond’s warchest currently exceeds Cao’s fundraising.)
Those very interested in how the 2nd District Race will work out include the candidates for Jefferson Parish President and Lieutenant Governor. Even with the news that Councilman At-Large Thomas Capella was dropping out of the Parish President's race in order to run for Assessor, this newspaper revealed last week, businessman Larry Haas will still challenge frontrunner Councilman At-Large John Young. They, and potentially several other candidates will be on the October ballot, affected if there is a Democratic runoff, since the 2nd District covers all of Jefferson’s West Bank and most of South Kenner.
This matters for two reasons. First, complicating the Second Congressional District race even further is the interest by First District Kenner Councilman Gregory Carroll in a potential bid for Congress. In an exclusive, The Louisiana Weekly and Bayoubuzz have learned that Carroll, who won a close fight for the African-American majority Council seat just months ago, is strongly considering the race. Since there is no contender from Jefferson Parish currently in the field for Congress, in a district where nearly a majority of the voters live in Jefferson Parish, Carroll could upset the designs of Richmond whether Carter Peterson runs or not.
Secondly, he further bolsters what is already likely to happen, a strong Democratic turnout in the Jefferson Parish President’s race. In other words, he helps provide an opening that already exists for a strong Democratic contender for Parish President, especially now that the establishment candidate Capella has dropped out.
Jefferson Parish is thought of as GOP territory, but it is at least a third African-American and its West Bank contains a low income population that typically leans Democratic. With a contentious Democratic primary on the ballot in October (thanks to Carter Peterson or any of the other possibles), a Democrat could gain a runoff slot without spending much money. As it stands, Republicans currently have little reason beyond this and the Lieutenant Governor’s race to turnout to the polls in the 2nd District in OCTOBER, and a Democrat, with the right strategy could propel himself into a runoff slot in November.
Young is the clear favorite in this race, especially now that Capella has decided to drop a bid for Parish President and run for Assessor in the special election to replace Lawrence Chehardy in April. Young has a history of being able to successfully attract Democratic voters as well. His one danger is a strong West Bank candidate getting into the race. With Capella's departure, allies of his patron, Sheriff Newell Norman, are already talking to West Bank Councilman Chris Roberts about qualifying by Friday for Parish President. Roberts used to be a Democrat, but switched parties in recent years to the GOP. Still, a West Banker on the ballot, either Roberts (who has not announced any decision as of yet) or a strong Democrat, could make the race competitive once more.
That is good news for Roger Villere. The GOP Chairman is counting on high turnout for him in the Lt. Governor’s contest, and without a competitive parish president's race, his base in Jefferson Parish might not have felt as much urgency to vote.
Villere’s strategy to get in a runoff with and ultimately defeat Jay Dardenne is to have high turnouts in Jefferson and Orleans where his name and political support lies, and such a surge could overwhelm Dardenne’s support in his Baton Rouge base and his power of incumbency across the state.
Most believe that Villere’s cause is helped if a Democrat from outside the New Orleans Metro area stands as well, hurting Dardenne’s chances of expanding into Democratic voters outside the city--and within. Of course, a New Orleans Democrat might be helped by the Second Congressional District surge in October, should the Democratic primary be contentious. However, that remains to be seen.
It does look unlikely as this newspaper went to press that Shreveport PSC member Foster Campbell will qualify for Lt. Governor as was originally thought. Senior Democrats tell this newspaper, however, they will have a candidate. Not necessarily one who hails from the Crescent City, though, a potential victory for Villere’s campaign, and for the third candidate in the Lt. Gov race, Kevin Davis, to solidify his support on Northshore.
“After much consideration and collaboration with family, friends and supporters," Capella said Monday morning, "I decided to run for Parish Assessor. Championing the fight for property owners and keeping government accountable to people is central to my political philosophy and is a responsibility that I will relish.”
Christopher Tidmore is on the radio weekday mornings from 7-8 AM on WSLA 1560 AM New Orleans and KKAY 1590 AM Baton Rouge. Online at www.gtmorning.com