The results remind me of statewide post-Katrina polls showing Bobby Jindal easily beating Kathleen Blanco in a rematch of their 2003 gubernatorial runoff, which Blanco narrowly won.
In the case of Blanco and Jindal, it was a massive instance of post-Katrina buyer's remorse. Reading the recent survey of New Orleans voters, one is tempted to reach the same conclusion with regard to Landrieu and Mayor Ray Nagin, who narrowly defeated the lieutenant governor in a May 2006 runoff.
But there are several key differences this time. Let's look at the numbers to understand why.
In a trial heat featuring six potential mayoral candidates, voters expressed the following preferences:
Landrieu, 45 percent
Councilman Arnie Fielkow, 21 percent
Councilman James Carter, 5 percent
Attorney Rob Couhig, 4 percent
Businessman Roy Glapion, 3 percent
State Sen. Ed Murray, 2 percent
Uncertain, 20 percent
A breakdown of those results along racial lines is revealing. Landrieu gets 52 percent among black voters and 36 percent among whites; Fielkow gets only 8 percent among blacks, but his 37 percent among whites actually beats Landrieu by 1 percentage point in that demographic.
The survey was taken April 25-26 by Verne Kennedy, a veteran pollster, for a group of New Orleans business people who regularly hire Kennedy to conduct local and statewide surveys. The sample size was 400 registered voters.
"It's way too early to talk about the next mayor's race," Landrieu says, adding that he was nonetheless happy that local voters rate him highly. The survey showed the lieutenant governor with 79 percent "favorable" name recognition among whites and 70 percent among blacks.
So why isn't this another case of buyer's remorse?
First, Nagin cannot seek another term, so the rematch factor is not there. Second, the survey did not measure Nagin's standing among voters, so it's impossible to conclude with any degree of confidence that Landrieu's current popularity is a reaction to Nagin's presumed unpopularity. There may well be an element of buyer's remorse out there in favor of Landrieu, but this survey did not measure it.
Third, and perhaps most telling of all, the survey actually has some good news for the mayor. By a margin of more than 2-to-1, voters said they think New Orleans is moving in the right direction. The actual numbers were 56 percent saying the city is on the right track, while only 23 percent said it was on the wrong track.
For all the grief that Nagin gets about the slow pace of recovery, he should take great consolation in those numbers the movement may be slow, but at least people feel it's in the right direction.
As for Landrieu's mayoral prospects, right now there's a lot more speculation about him becoming governor. Here again, he's not doing much of anything to make that happen, but, just as Katrina boosted Jindal's fortunes, events beyond his control could catapult Landrieu into the governor's office.
Almost lost amid the hubbub about Jindal possibly being tapped as John McCain's running mate in the presidential race is the fact that, should that happen and should McCain win, Landrieu would automatically become governor next Jan. 20. Which explains why Landrieu is not overly excited about running for mayor again. Even if Jindal remains governor, many believe Landrieu would rather stick around and run for governor someday.
Which leaves the rest of the field. The survey measured only one trial heat without Landrieu a head-to-head matchup between Fielkow and Carter. In that one, Fielkow beat Carter 55 percent to 21 percent. Interestingly, Fielkow, who is white, led Carter, who is black, even among African-American voters by a margin of 38 percent to 33 percent. Among whites, Fielkow led 75 percent to 7 percent.
Unlike Landrieu, Fielkow and Carter both have quietly encouraged talk of their potential candidacies. But, as we've seen so often before, a lot can happen in the space of 21 months.