The New Orleans mayor's race has entered its mudslinging phase, with runoff contenders City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet now locked in a heated competition to see which one can discredit the other.
Charbonnet, who trailed in the Oct. 14 primary, launched the first missive when her campaign distributed public records showing that Cantrell had put some personal and political expenses on her council credit card, then later reimbursed taxpayers for the ones she admitted were improper. Cantrell fired back by urging state ethics charges against major Charbonnet supporter Leon Cannizzaro, after the Orleans Parish district attorney made a public show of referring what his office called a "criminal complaint" against Cantrell to the state attorney general's office. The "complaint" was not the result of an investigation, but an anonymous tip that happened to mirror Charbonnet's credit card attack.
At this point, it's hard to predict which candidate will benefit, but it's a pretty easy bet that the back-and-forth will leave plenty of voters dispirited, and may depress turnout in the Nov. 18 primary.
And if that happens, there could be an unlikely beneficiary: Former state Rep. John Schroder, who's running in the only statewide election that day for state treasurer.
Schroder, a Republican from Covington, would normally be considered a heavy favorite to replace now-U. S. Sen. John Kennedy, what with the state's overall conservative tilt. But the New Orleans race presents a complication.
Schroder is competing against a Democrat, attorney Derrick Edwards, who is considered such a long shot that the state party didn't bother to endorse him in the primary (although it finally did this past weekend ahead of the runoff).
Edwards came in first anyway, thanks in large part to the heightened turnout in heavily Democratic New Orleans for the city's big municipal races. He took 31 percent statewide, with Schroder following at 24 percent. In New Orleans, he corralled an impressive 62 percent of the primary vote to Schroder's 12 percent.
Assuming Schroder picks up votes from the primary's other four competitors, three Republicans and a Libertarian, he should still be way ahead.
His problem is that he can't assume everyone who voted in October will show up again, particularly since there's little else on the ballot to draw voters in more conservative corners of the state to the polls on a busy fall day.
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One plus for Schroder is that his old legislative seat in St. Tammany Parish is up for grabs. That election could bring out some sympathetic voters, although legislative districts are small, and state House contests aren't that big an electoral draw.
In other parts of the state likely to favor Schroder, though, the pickings are slim to nonexistent. As LaPolitics publisher Jeremy Alford has pointed out, a full 56 parishes have nothing at all on the ballot other than the treasurer race.
And let's face it. A contest for state treasurer isn't the sort of thing that generally captures voters' imaginations. While the job has proved to be a major steppingstone for other politicians — both Kennedy and Mary Landrieu used the post to launch successful Senate bids — it's actually pretty dry and technocratic in nature. That's one reason Schroder is following in Kennedy's footsteps and promising to rein in all those other big-spending scoundrels in Baton Rouge. Never mind that the treasurer has little say in budgetary matters.
And never mind that the message is still likely to appeal to the majority of potential voters across the state. His major challenge isn't to convince them that he's their guy. It's to get them to show up.
And nothing would help his cause more than any development that keeps a bunch of those New Orleans Democrats from doing the same.