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Dueling Polls 

Congressman Chris John's supporters must be buoyed by the latest poll results in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race -- a poll paid for by the John campaign. Considering the survey puts John in front of state Treasurer John Kennedy for the first time, that is something to crow about Š if you believe the poll.

I say that because the same poll also shows Republican Congressman David Vitter of Metairie getting more votes than all three of his Democratic rivals combined means it holds as much good news for Vitter as it does for John.

Sometimes you just have to take the bad news with the good.

The poll was taken Aug. 9-15 by the Washington firm of Greenberg Quinlan. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Here are the results: Vitter, 42 percent; John, 21 percent; Kennedy, 15 percent; state Rep. Arthur Morrell (also a Democrat), 3 percent; undecided, 19 percent. Vitter thus leads all Democrats by 3 points, which is within the margin of error.

Several things need to be noted about this or any other survey. First, the race is just beginning, so the poll is truly a snapshot in time and not a prediction of how things will look on Nov. 2. Second, this is the only poll that has John leading Kennedy, and the fact that John paid for the poll leaves its results open to skepticism. And third, the fact that only 19 percent of the voters were "undecided" almost three months before the election is a big red flag. That's just not how things go in Louisiana elections. Typically, you might see the undecided vote that small only in the final 10 days or two weeks of a campaign.

Kennedy, meanwhile, has a poll taken a month earlier by the firm of Penn, Schoen. It showed: Vitter, 33 percent; Kennedy, 18 percent; John 15 percent; Morrell, 3 percent; undecided 31 percent. That undecided figure is much more in line with what polls typically show this far in advance of an election.

Interestingly, all candidates will have to fare well in the same geographic area -- Acadiana -- in order to win. For John, who hails from Crowley, that should be easy. But you can't take anything for granted in Louisiana elections. Cajuns are loyal to their own, but they're also conservative.

For leading Democrats John and Kennedy, the primary is also a contest for African-American votes -- still the core Democratic constituency. The candidacy of Morrell, who is black, complicates things, although Morrell has not shown enough money, movement or momentum to indicate that he could be anything more than a spoiler for one of the front-running Democrats. So far, Kennedy leads among black voters in all surveys.

Someone recently asked me what Vitter has to do to win, and I answered, "Do better in Acadiana than Susie Terrell or Bobby Jindal did." That answer presumes, of course, that Vitter's Democratic opponent will carry Acadiana, which is likely when you consider that the state's two biggest Democrats -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco and retiring U.S. Sen. John Breaux -- are both Cajuns. Both also are backing John. My analysis also presumes that Vitter will carry suburban New Orleans and the "bubba" vote (white rural conservatives outside Acadiana), which is equally likely. For Vitter, the key is not to get beat as badly in Acadiana as he beats his Democratic opponent in his own geographic and philosophical backyard. The opposite is true of Vitter's Democratic opponent in a runoff -- assuming, of course, that John's latest poll numbers don't hold up for the Republican congressman in the primary.

My money says they won't, which means the race won't be decided until Dec. 4.

Correction In this column and elsewhere in the media, the proposal to change the governing structure of the New Orleans Recreation Department has erroneously been described as an initiative of the Friends of NORD. The idea for a recreation commission to replace the current agency in City Hall actually came from a business task force. The Friends of NORD raises private capital for playground improvements, and the group merely provided research for the task force regarding the commission idea. Nancy Broadhurst, executive director of the Friends of NORD, says her group is committed to raising funds for playground equipment under any management structure.

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