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Red-Hot Races Everywhere 

All told, Nov. 2 is shaping up as a wild ride. But first, the polls will have to open Š on time.

The Democratic candidates for Louisiana's open U.S. Senate seat have finally figured out that Republican David Vitter could win a first primary victory. They ganged up on him last week in a debate, and their ads will likely take shots at him in the final days of the primary. In other elections, things are heating up as voters prepare to go to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, New Orleans voter-registration figures reached new highs as citizens here joined those across the country in swelling the ranks of those eligible to cast ballots next week. That came as a state investigation into the Sept. 18 voting-machine debacle concluded what everyone already knew: Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Williamson Butler bungled delivery of the machines.

All told, Nov. 2 is shaping up as a wild ride.

The Senate Race -- The three leading Democrats took turns using Vitter as a punching bag at a debate in Lafayette last Thursday. That's to be expected. Vitter not only has led in every poll, but he also gets a majority of the decided vote in practically every survey. He demurs at the suggestion that he's trying to win outright in the Nov. 2 primary, but that's exactly what he hopes to do -- and for good reason.

History tells us that Republicans don't do well in statewide, head-to-head contests against moderate Democrats in Louisiana. If Vitter has a shot to wrap it all up next week, he'd be crazy not to try. Against either Chris John or John Kennedy (his two leading Democratic rivals), Vitter will have a tough time in the Dec. 4 runoff. He won't have George Bush's coattails, and the Democrats will really be united against him then. Already retiring U.S. Sen. John Breaux appears in a TV ad criticizing Vitter for being a puppet of the national GOP.

In the days ahead, look for "independent" Republican committees to continue chopping down John, the Democrat from Crowley, and for increased turnout efforts from both parties.

The PSC Race -- The contest for state Public Service Commission pits state Sen. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge against First City Court Constable Lambert Boissiere III of New Orleans. Fields figured the best defense is a good offense, so he went on the air attacking Boissiere and accusing him of unethical conduct. Fields, of course, was caught on tape by the FBI shoving wads of cash down his pants -- cash that he got from Edwin Edwards during the riverboat casino scandal. That video reappeared in Boissiere's latest ad.

Fields will benefit from a high turnout in the Baton Rouge mayor's race, but Boissiere has picked up significant endorsements from black Capital City politicos who are tired of Fields and don't want to see him gain a regional political base. Fields has support from New Orleans Congressman Bill Jefferson, but otherwise no one wants to see him gain a foothold in New Orleans politics.

Criminal Sheriff -- Marlin Gusman and Warren Riley are slugging it out for the criminal sheriff's job. Gusman fired first and very effectively, blasting Riley for allegedly mishandling a domestic violence complaint from a woman who was subsequently murdered. Riley says the woman withdrew her complaint and asked him to drop the matter, but that message may get lost between Gusman's original volley and a follow-up ad from the dead woman's mother and sisters.

For his part, Riley is expected to point out Gusman's lead role in former Mayor Marc Morial's administration, which is now under federal investigation for possible corruption. This fight just keeps escalating, and it won't stop until the polls close.

But first, the polls will have to open Š on time. A just-completed investigation into the voting machine snafu of Sept. 18 puts Kimberly Williamson Butler under the gun for the Nov. 2 election. Secretary of State Fox McKeithen promises to send up to 50 staff members to town to help the local clerk get it right this time. She should take McKeithen up on his offer, because more than 315,000 people are now registered to vote in New Orleans. With so many hot races on the ballot, turnout will be high. And after Sept 18, voters' tolerance for any more screw-ups will be very, very low.

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