Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell is very close to making it official that she will run. That should set up another hard fought statewide contest between two New Orleans-based candidates. Foti is a Democrat; Terrell is a Republican.
Less than a year ago, Terrell was locked in a pitched battle against Mary Landrieu for the U.S. Senate. Landrieu won, but only after a very bitter campaign. Both Terrell and Landrieu are from New Orleans.
Attorney Al Donovan of Jefferson Parish, who once served as executive counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards, has been campaigning for a while for the AG's job, but he does not have Terrell's statewide cachet or Foti's political ties to sheriffs, district attorneys, clerks and assessors across Louisiana -- many of whom have been encouraging Foti for months to make the race. State Rep. Don Cazayoux of New Roads has talked of running but is said to be leaning toward seeking re-election now that Foti is officially in the hunt.
"Charlie has every sheriff, 90 percent of the DAs, and 90 percent of the clerks with him, not to mention many assessors," says Allan Katz, publicist for Foti. "He'll come out of New Orleans very strong."
That means the race will be decided in Jefferson Parish and Acadiana. That's a familiar scenario for Terrell, who lost to Landrieu because she didn't do well enough in Jefferson and in the sugar cane belt. Every election is a unique event, so it will be interesting to see where Jefferson goes this time.
Katz says Foti has gotten encouragement (but not official endorsements) from several Jefferson Parish political leaders, including Parish President Tim Coulon, Sheriff Harry Lee and Council President Aaron Broussard.
Foti also has a huge war chest. He'll need it, because as popular and as well known as he is in the New Orleans area (after nearly 30 years as criminal sheriff), he's still an untested commodity statewide. The sheriffs and DAs no doubt will help, but this race will be a sprint, not a marathon. He'll have to spend heavily to get his name recognition level up to that of Terrell, who spent heavily establishing her name last year.
For her part, Terrell doesn't seem to be worried about Foti's deep pockets or his broad political support. "I've never had the backing of the courthouse crowd in any of my races," she says. "I've always been a reformer interested in bringing change, so I don't expect support from the good ol' boys."
In addition to her race for Senate, Terrell has a successful statewide campaign under her belt, having beaten incumbent Jerry Fowler and fellow Republican Woody Jenkins in the 1999 race for elections commissioner. She also has a good grassroots organization from that race and the Senate campaign.
Terrell's major weakness will be the lingering effects, if any, of her harshly negative campaign for the Senate last year. Many feel she lost the race in the final week because the national GOP ads (which she did not control) continued to attack Landrieu right up to election day. Her task this time will be to show a softer side of Suzie.
But make no mistake about it: this race is going to be another barnburner.