- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Louisiana Republicans say Hurricane Katrina has provided them an opportunity to win top elective offices their party has rarely held since Reconstruction.

Peggy Wilson, a Republican and former New Orleans City Council president, already is raising money for a potential bid to unseat New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, a Democrat, in February.

“I think the numbers show a small window of opportunity for a Republican candidate to win,” said Mrs. Wilson, who has not formally announced her candidacy but is “meeting with people, getting ideas.”

Besides a run at New Orleans’ top slot, which a Republican has only held once, Republicans say Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s poor performance in the aftermath of Katrina has left her vulnerable in 2007.

“She’s a gone pecan,” said Jeff Crouere, a Republican strategist and New Orleans talk-show host.

Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans, are both said to be eyeing the governor’s mansion, home to only two Republicans since the Civil War.

Mr. Vitter told a Lafayette crowd earlier this month he would sign a petition to recall the governor, and said of state officials’ efforts after the hurricane that it is easy for him to “look like a giant in a land of pygmies.”

Mr. Jindal narrowly lost the governor’s race two years ago and has support of the socially centrist Republicans in charge of the state party. Mr. Vitter is supported by conservative Republicans.

Democratic state officials did not return calls for comment, but Democrats are trying to maintain their strong voter base dispersed by Katrina by issuing absentee ballots to evacuees in other states.

New Orleans’ population, which was predominantly black and Democratic, is expected to only be about 40 percent of its former size by the time of the Feb. 4 mayoral election.

“Republicans see a real opportunity to change the whole dynamics of the city,” said Mr. Crouere. “I don’t see a lot of folks who were displaced coming back to New Orleans.”

Mrs. Wilson, who managed the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans and served 12 years on the City Council and a stint on the city’s levee board, said the city needs to create a new image.

“We can’t go back to the way things were before Katrina turned over all of the rocks and the whole world saw what was underneath those rocks,” she said of the city’s widespread and longtime corruption. “It’s unacceptable.”

The state’s top election official is trying to locate 299,000 New Orleans evacuees so they can be sent absentee ballots. Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater says the Federal Emergency Management Agency refuses to divulge the location of evacuees, citing confidentiality.

Meanwhile, Rep. Artur Davis, Alabama Democrat, is sponsoring legislation with 30 other Democrats to give voters from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi the same voting status as those serving in the military. Voters would have to sign an affidavit they will return to their home states to vote in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections.

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