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Expert Weighs in on Council Runoff Races
Tulane Prof. Discusses How Race, Policy, and Endorsements Will Affect Final Outcomes
Council Districts E and B both left Tuesday's election without a simple-majority winner. In the District E race, former House Representative and serial candidate Austin Badon will face attorney James Gray, while in District B Latoya Cantrell prepares for her showdown with Dana Kaplan.
Now the top two from each contest is headed to the December 8th runoff race, but this is not a re-run of the November run—it's a whole name game according to experts.
Dr. Brian J. Brox teaches a course on Elections in America at Tulane, and specializes in—amongst other things—political behavior and public opinion effecting politics. Brox says the candidates have much more ahead of them then they did going into the primaries.
"The fact is that as a runoff, it will be the only item on the ballot for that area," which Brox said is a positive factor for the focus it will bring, but it also a loss because there will likely be less voter turn out by default. "The other day, the turn out was high because of Presidential race and congressional races. [The candidates'] focus will now be to drive turnout...it will require resources or effort."
"But it's not about replicating what you did the first time—you have to tune people in and most have tuned out," Brox said. "The two big things are the level of funding and endorsements."
Those endorsements will be key in getting voters motivated and back to the polls, especially the ones who voted for one of the defunct candidates. Those endorsements will likely come closer to the runoff date, to have the greatest impact and stick out in voters' minds even more.
"If it seems there is a clear choice, if seems there is a lot of talk about one candidate being right for the district, that will come through in the media," said Brox.
Though, for either race, that is going to be difficult, and there are still other factors specific to each contest.
Austin Badon nearly took the race for District E with 48-percent of the primary vote (10,800 votes). Though there was a large drop off for the second runoff candidate, James Gray, who had 30-percent (6,712 votes).
Badon has made a bid for the seat before, but lost in 2010, by a very narrow margin against the disgraced Jon Johnson (Johnson later pled guilty to corruption charges and was forced to step down). Gray has received endorsements from key players in New Orleans politics, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former opponent Cynthia Willard Lewis.
Both Badon's previous runs and Gray's endorsements could factor into the election, especially since voters tend to vote for candidates they know and have heard any positive praise for, according to Brox. And a repeat candidate like Badon has had his name on the ballot enough to get recognized and built a proper base over time that could make this his time to shine.
"A persistent candidate might happen into a race where the context fits to their advantages," Brox said.
Because it is not always about just the candidate—it is who they're a running against, what policy is being discussed at the time and a myriad of other factors. But if a candidate keeps returning, they will have the name recognition and the resources established in the voters' minds, and that does give them a head start in the polls.
"They have established networks of funding, and volunteers that turn out voters," Brox said.
Could this be Badon's time to shine?
One commonality between both Districts B and E in the primary election was they both had large candidate pools. In B there were four candidates and District E started with six and finished with five (Cynthia Willard-Lewis losing her court battle to run in the race).
District E's numbers were close to not having any runoff, but the disparity in votes was not as large. The top two candidates—Latoya Cantrell and Dana Kaplan—emerged with 39-percent and 31-percent of the vote (9,465 votes and 7,511 votes respectively). Eric Strachan, who was the closest to runoff territory, received 24-percent (5,921 votes).
This appears to happen more and more with local elections, and most times speculation of runoff races starts long before the primary numbers ever start coming back. Brox says the split elections come up here more because of the system.
"This is very unique to Louisiana politics, those are not what you see in any other state of the Union."
This also leads, Brox said, to more candidates actually participating in the first place, which is why voters can see five or even six candidates in a race.
"Because you just need to be in the top two," Brox said. "And another thing is [the candidates] are grounded in their community, and have connections that serve as a basis of electoral support...they know, 'I can rely on the people in my religious congregation or my social club... So, it's not surprising you're seeing these indecisive election results because of the way it is set up."
This set up, so called, allows for seriously funded ponies like Eric Strachan—one of the District B race candidates who was taking in tens of thousands—to run in the same as a grass roots and long shot candidate like Marlon "10th Ward Buck" Horton—whose campaign was sparked by a bad run in with the previous council.
Cantrell-Kaplan: Racial or Local
One factor going in to the runoffs will be the local support these candidates bring with them. Cantrell is a graduate of Xavier University and has deep roots in the Broadmoor neighborhood, which she worked to revitalize following the Federal Flood. Meanwhile, her opponent Dana Kaplan has worked for the city as the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, but took over the organization in 2007 after a stint as a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. A pre-Election Day mailer from the campaign of Eric Strachan labeled Kaplan as a New York community organizer.
"I'm not sure if it will determine the outcome," Brox said of the two candidates' local ties. "But the other question is: will there be a race play amongst voters?"
Professor Brox cited that not only does District B have a history of racial lines shifting voting trends, but that they have already appeared in this election—with predominately white precincts in the district going to Kaplan and former opponent Eric Strachan, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's numbers.
In District B there are a diverse set of neighborhoods, ranging from quaint private residences, huge honking office buildings, little businesses, swanky homesteads and creole cottages, and the occasional stadium. The geographic bounds start at Jefferson Ave and then the line follows it down until it bottoms out at Tchoupitoulas and then comes all the way back up to around the Mid City stretch of Canal, with the Broadmoor, Lower Garden and some Uptown neighborhoods.
Broadmoor was Cantrell's, and will be again by the home turf theory, but the Lower Garden District and the area running along Canal Street went predominately to Strachan and Kaplan, with the numbers for Cantrell going up as we get back to that Broadmoor stronghold. Places like the line along Tchoupitoulas will vary back and forth as the neighborhood—and particularly the neighbors—fluctuate as you drive from one end toward the other.
"There is a history of racially-polarized voting and there is a history of that in District B...If these patterns are repeated in the runoff, you will see very racially-polarized voting."
However, it is hard to tell what factor, or factors, will sway a voter into selecting one of the two remaining candidates. A white voter who went for Strachan originally could vote for Cantrell because she is a local with community roots, or may back Kaplan along racial lines. They could shift on either issue, and only the final results will answer.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this story stated LaToya Cantrell was born and raised in New Orleans. That is incorrect. Cantrell is actually from California. She is a graduate of Xavier University Louisiana and has been very invested in the Broadmoor neighborhood and District B for years, but is not, however, a born-and-raised native, as previously cited.
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