Monday, December 08, 2008

Does It Take Two Hurricanes Plus an Indictment to Elect a Republican in New Orleans???

Louisiana has to have some of the most interesting, yet oftentimes confusing, politics in the country. And since the devastation, and demographic chaos unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, Bayou politics has become more unpredictable. The most recent evidence of this came about Saturday as a result of the congressional election in the 2nd district that saw the defeat of long embattled (and indicted), yet long tenured Congressman William Jefferson. The result of the election was the ascent of the first ever Vietnamese-American to Congress, Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao. How we got to this piece of history takes a little explaining.

The arrival of Hurricane Gustav this August essentially pushed back each election for the seat. November 4th was actually the primary, which Jefferson won in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. With the primary completed, the general election was thus held on Saturday. However, as we know, elections held after the general are fraught with both unpredictability and low-turnout (witness last week's Georgia Senate run-off). While Jefferson's indictment, one would think, would be responsible for his defeat, other factors are likely bigger factors. First, as the coverage of the election makes pretty clear (good number breakdown here), turnout among African Americans--the largest group and backbone of the district--was very low. While low turnout among a candidate's base might be enough to spell their demise, Jefferson's difficulties were exacerbated by another Hurricane--Katrina. In my look at HBCU voting last week (see post here) I examined the vote in a number of southern counties. As we would have expected, the total number of votes in these high African American vote counties greatly exceeded what we saw in 2004. In Orleans Parish, however, the opposite happened. Because of the massive out-migration and displacement among African Americans caused by Katrina, 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year than in 2004. Thus, Jefferson found himself faced with an unfavorable environment:

Fewer Total Democratic Voters + Low Turnout + Indictment = TROUBLE

Throw in the fact that Cao has an incredibly compelling story and you have Saturday's result. While people are already doubting the ability of a Republican to hold this district in a more "normal" election year like 2010 (running against someone not under federal indictment), such jockeying for the seat can wait for a while in light of the history this election made.

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