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Parsing Poll Numbers
The congressional campaign of former TV newscaster Helena Moreno was crowing last week about a poll by Multi-Quest that showed her making the runoff against Congressman Bill Jefferson and beating him in a head-to-head match-up. Indeed, the poll by veteran pollster Jack Grimm showed her running second in the crowded Democratic primary field in the Second Congressional District and leading Jefferson by a margin of 49 percent to 36 percent in a head-to-head match-up. The poll was completed shortly before Hurricane Gustav — roughly five or six weeks before the Oct. 4 primary.

However, the numbers that were released to the media did not include a racial breakdown of either the primary "horse race" or the head-to-head contest between Moreno and Jefferson. Gambit Weekly got a peek at those racial breakdowns, which had Moreno winning 26 percent of the black vote against Jefferson, who is black, in the head-to-head match-up. While no one disputes the accuracy of Grimm's polls, political veterans know two things about polls: first, they are not crystal balls and therefore hold no "predictive" value whatsoever; and second, any poll that shows a white candidate getting substantial black votes against a well-known black candidate — particularly a black incumbent — should be discounted because black voters historically are loath to "give up the franchise" to a white challenger. That held true for Mayor Ray Nagin against white challenger Mitch Landrieu in the last mayoral election, even though Nagin was not popular among black voters.

Another complicating factor is the fact that the Democratic congressional runoff will be on Nov. 4 — presidential Election Day, when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama tops the Democratic ticket. If Moreno makes the runoff, and if she holds at least a quarter of the overall black vote against Jefferson, she will have accomplished something that no other white candidate for major public office has ever done in New Orleans — and she will have done it on the day that millions of black voters across America go to the polls to cast ballots for the first African-American major party nominee for president. One other statistic that was not revealed when the poll was released to the media: state Sen. Cedric Richmond also defeated Jefferson in a head-to-head match-up. — DuBos

Search-and-Rescue Teams Move North During Gustav
Despite the widespread and readily apparent damage in south Louisiana, officials with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries say there were no search-and-rescue teams dispatched below I-10 after Hurricane Gustav made landfall. Teams were pre-positioned at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux and New Orleans, but they never saw action. The department's boats remained on their trailers, and wildlife agents for the most part remained dry. Gov. Bobby Jindal pulled the trigger on evacuations several days earlier than the traditional timeline. By moving some 1.9 million people — among the largest evacuations ever undertaken nationwide — officials argue that the need for search-and-rescue operations was greatly diminished. "Because of the way things happened with evacuations, there's little to no rescues to even mention," said Bo Boehringer, DWLF press secretary. Agents, law enforcement officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard also were pre-positioned in Abbeville to serve southwest Louisiana, in the Clearview area to reach New Orleans and as far south as Plaquemines Parish. Those teams were never mobilized, either.

But Gustav was more than a 24-hour storm affecting only the coastal regions. Forty-eight hours after landfall, the storm's wind and rains reached north Louisiana and threatened several communities with flooding. The department's search-and-rescue team, which days before found itself without a single rescue mission, was regrouped and sent north. The waters were rapidly rising in Winnsboro, the seat of Franklin Parish, where a handful of evacuees from south Louisiana were being sheltered. Gustav had pummeled Ash Slough and Turkey Creek, Winnsboro's main drainage points. The overflow reached the piney woods community in the dead of night, with agents launching boats around 2 a.m., according to next-day coverage by The Monroe News Star. With only their own lighting rigs to guide the way, the department's agents were faced with at least 150 flooded homes to assess, said Winnsboro Mayor Jack Hammons. Debris, including cars and rooftops, bobbed in the water and offered further challenges, but the DWLF team accomplished its mission. "We ended up saving 70 people from extremely high waters," Boehringer said in an interview with Gambit Weekly.

While that figure underscores the devastation wrought by Hurricane Gustav, it pales in comparison to the rescues executed during the 2005 hurricane season, when 22,000 lives were saved during Katrina and an additional 400 a few weeks later during Rita. — Alford

Cajuns Hoping for Political Capital
Acadiana escaped major damage from both Gustav and Ike, but locals in southwest Louisiana hope the threat of two serious hurricanes in one season generates newfound political capital. Officials want to use the bartering chips to help the region continue to build upon its place in the state's hurricane protection and coastal restoration plans. In this expanding policy arena, southwest Louisiana has traditionally played second fiddle to the eastern shoreline, overshadowed by the growing needs of the New Orleans region and outpaced by the unified front of the Terrebonne-Lafourche area. Lately, however, the Acadiana region has seen more projects added to the state's evolving coastal recovery master plan. Additionally, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation earlier this year creating an additional seat on the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the state's guiding coastal board, for southwest Louisiana. One particular project that deserves more attention, and should receive it thanks to Gustav, calls for building a levee on the outer banks of the Intracoastal Waterway to help repel storm surges. John T. Landry, a former member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, says the money has already been budgeted, but the project needs to be redesigned. "When you're dealing with Congress," he says, "nothing is easy. We've already taken a direct hit from Rita. I don't know what else it's going to take." — Alford

Gustav-Induced Flashbacks
If you were able to catch television coverage of Hurricane Gustav out of Baton Rouge, particularly WAFB-TV, then you may have noticed a few ghosts from Channel 9 newscasts past making their way back on the airwaves. Most notably, Abbeville native Marie Centanni was brought back on board to help report from briefings at the emergency operations center. Centanni originally left Channel 9 to take over as press secretary for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco during the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which were the Democratic governor's final years in office. Weekend anchors from days gone by also pitched in at WAFB. Intrepid reporter Avery Davidson, who has been covering hurricanes since he entered broadcasting (the day after he graduated from New Iberia High School), called in tips to the newsroom and also phoned in reports on WJBO 1150 AM radio. Davidson is now the executive producer of and a reporter for This Week in Louisiana Agriculture, which is produced by the public relations department of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. Julie Baxter, winner of an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting, was also calling into WJBO and filed reports on-air for WAFB. Baxter is now an attorney in Baton Rouge. — Alford


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