Cantrell holds clear lead in mayor's race 

Attacks over LaToya Cantrell's use of her city credit card do not appear to have made much of a dent in her standing in the New Orleans mayor's race, according to polls taken before and after Desiree Charbonnet's campaign began beating the drum on the issue.

A poll done by Market Research Insight on Nov. 8 gave Cantrell a 15-point lead over Charbonnet in Saturday's runoff, just 3 percentage points down from a previous poll by the firm on Oct. 23. The first poll was taken before Cantrell's use of her credit card as a member of the City Council became a hot issue in the race.

The line of attack by Charbonnet's campaign appears to have had some effect, particularly among white voters, but it has done little to dent Cantrell's overall standing, said Verne Kennedy, the survey firm's president.

The November poll shows Cantrell winning 51 percent of the vote, with Charbonnet at 36 percent and 13 percent undecided. The October poll had Cantrell at 54 percent and Charbonnet at 36 percent.

"Don’t anyone count their chickens yet, but right now LaToya has a real advantage in almost every area," Kennedy said.

Cantrell led Charbonnet in the Oct. 14 primary, 39 percent to 30 percent. 

Kennedy's poll results track with at least one other publicly released survey and with private polls paid for by other independent groups.

Interestingly, voters' opinions of both candidates declined between the two polls.

About 66 percent of voters had a favorable view of Cantrell in the October survey, while 22 percent had an unfavorable view. In November, about 61 percent of voters said they viewed her favorably, with 26 percent having an unfavorable opinion.

The percent of voters who had a favorable opinion of Charbonnet dropped from 56 percent to 54 percent between the two polls, while those with unfavorable opinions increased from 30 percent to 32 percent.

Kennedy conducted the latest poll for an independent group of 20 business people including John Georges, who owns The New Orleans Advocate. The poll surveyed 400 voters who had cast ballots in the primary election and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

Scalise backs Lopinto in Jeff sheriff's race

U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise has endorsed Joe Lopinto in the race for Jefferson Parish sheriff. The Jefferson-based Republican announced his endorsement Friday. 

Scalise said the experience Lopinto has accumulated in two different stints at the Sheriff's Office — divided by service in the Legislature — makes him qualified to become Newell Normand's elected successor. 

Scalise said Lopinto would be able "to bring the Sheriff's Office to the next level so we can counter the violent criminals and drug activity that threaten our safety."  

Normand appointed Lopinto, 41, to be his chief deputy before Normand's unexpected retirement this summer. Lopinto, by law, then automatically became interim sheriff. 

Already endorsed by Normand, Lopinto hopes Scalise's backing will help him in his race against retired Sheriff's Office Col. John Fortunato, 66, the agency's longtime chief spokesman.

Fortunato launched his campaign for Normand's old post with a considerable amount of momentum. A recent UNO poll found his support at about 44 percent, buoyed by a four-decade career at the Sheriff's Office and years of addressing the public on TV about high-profile cases.

Lopinto registered 19 percent in the poll, with 37 percent undecided. 

Among various ties that Scalise and Lopinto share is their friendship with the family of state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. Lopinto and Henry were allies in the Legislature, and Henry's brother, Charles, is Scalise's chief of staff. 

Cameron Henry was Scalise's legislative aide when Scalise was a member of the Legislature. Cameron Henry took over Scalise's state House seat when Scalise left for Congress.

Lopinto and Fortunato are both registered Republicans. 

The primary in the sheriff's race is set for March 24. The three-day qualifying period will begin Jan. 3.

Bloom, Gray lead in council money races 

In the two New Orleans City Council races that have yet to be decided, Seth Bloom and James Gray are easily the top fundraisers, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Bloom, who is vying for the District B seat, swooped up more than $140,000 in donations in the latest reporting period, more than twice as much as his runoff opponent. Gray, the District E incumbent, netted about $62,000, far more than his opponent.

Bloom will face off in Saturday's election against Jay Banks for a district that covers Central City, the Central Business District and parts of Uptown and Mid-City. The winner will succeed LaToya Cantrell.

Gray faces challenger Cyndi Nguyen for a district that represents most of New Orleans East plus the Lower 9th Ward.

The finance reports cover activity from late September to early November.

Banks, a Dryades YMCA administrator and former King Zulu, raised about $58,500. Throughout their race, Banks has benefited from a slew of political endorsements, though Bloom, a criminal defense attorney, has been better financed.

Nguyen, a community organizer who leads the Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training, raised about $19,600 and chipped in $5,000 of her own money.

Notably, recent donations have given Nguyen the edge on Gray when it comes to total cash in the bank. Although Gray, a former attorney, has outraised her consistently, he also has spent far more, leaving him with less on hand on the eve of voting.

Compiled by staff writers Jeff Adelson, Ramon Antonio Vargas and Jessica Williams.

This post was updated to clarify how Lopinto became interim sheriff. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.