- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor C. Ray Nagin yesterday campaigned on the streets, stopping cars to shake hands with their occupants, as his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, rallied weary volunteers to cover the city with fliers in the final push to today’s tight run-off election.

Both the incumbent and challenger are confident of victory, but neither will claim it with polls in the too-close-to-call range and the electorate scattered by Hurricane Katrina.

“This has been the most up-and-down election in the country this year, so we’ll just have to see,” said Mr. Landrieu, whose father was the city’s last white mayor nearly 30 years ago and is considered by political observers to be the favorite.

The most recent poll done by Tulane University has Mr. Landrieu up by 10 percentage points with 48 percent to Mr. Nagin’s 38 percent, but 14 percent of registered voters were undecided and not a single respondent was from the large displaced population.

Mr. Landrieu’s numbers have jumped by 20 percentage points from last month’s cluttered primary of 25 candidates, while Mr. Nagin has stalled at the same percentage of votes he received. Mr. Nagin thinks his numbers are higher and trending in his favor.

“You cannot predict an election where you don’t know if the displaced are going to come in, mail in or fax in their votes; you can’t count Nagin out and you can’t say Mitch doesn’t have momentum,” said Democratic analyst Donna Brazile, who was born and raised in Kenner, La., just a short drive from the city.

Thousands of voters have already cast their ballots in person and through mailed and faxed absentee ballots, 12,053 in all, which is about 1,000 votes higher than on the primary’s election eve. And organizations working to bring residents into the city today say their numbers are larger than the primary.

“We will have one bus carrying 50 people from San Antonio, two buses with 50 to 100 people from Dallas and two buses with 100 people from Houston,” said Charles Jackson, spokesman for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

Nine months after floodwaters driven by Katrina inundated this city, the mayoral race, according to residents and observers, has become a choice between the pedigree of Mr. Landrieu, whose sister is Louisiana’s U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, and the one-term credentials of an outspoken, reform mayor, who before Katrina was expected to cruise to re-election.

It also has strong racial currents with a black mayor facing an uphill battle against a white candidate in a city that before Katrina was two-thirds black. About 40 percent of the city’s 465,000 population has returned.

Mr. Nagin, who captured 85 percent of the white vote in 2002, has upset some of the electorate with his “Chocolate City” comment and is considered to be out of favor with President Bush and Capitol Hill.

Mr. Landrieu has been praised for doing a good job with tourism and the economy as lieutenant governor, but does have critics who fear he is an agent of “old guard corruption.”

Civil Rights Division lawyers from the Justice Department will monitor polling sites to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, as they did during the primary.

As for the issues surrounding the city’s long-term rebuilding, the candidates have trouble defining how they differ.

“I can’t think of a single thing that we disagree on about our plans to rebuild,” Mr. Nagin said at the final debate Thursday night.

Mr. Landrieu said the difference will be in how they go about it.

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