I've been absorbing all the analyses about Saturday's Mayoral election in New Orleans from the safe distance of Washington, D.C., and maybe it's that juxtaposition that makes this thought unavoidable: Mitch Landrieu, the challenger to once and future incumbent Ray Nagin, ran like a Democrat. Silas Lee, the pollster and political analyst, said this morning on CNN that Landrieu ran as the alternative to Nagin rather than as the challenger, giving people too little sense of why they should change leaders. That's true: Landrieu's debate stance was, as a New Orleans friend wrote in an essay to his email list, courteous, in line with New Orleans traditions. But if there was ever a time to put the courtesy aside, this was it. Landrieu's approach reminded me, sitting here in D.C. for the weekend, of nothing so much as Kerry's in 2004: assuming that voters will fill in the blanks, not daring to express the anger that animated his base lest he offend those at the margins. Then, I came across Friday's column by the T-P's Chris Rose, written, obviously, before the election, and it nailed the point exactly: It's the tepidity, stupid. Landrieu had a significant, if not overwhelming, edge in fund-raising and television advertising, and basically hoped to use it to tiptoe to office.
If you don't give the voters a passionately lucid reason why the incumbent needs to be unseated, you can't blame them for pausing at the switch. Race will undoutedly get the blame, but Landrieu might well have looked at one of Nagin's other primary opponents, white conservative Rob Couhig, for a primer on how to frame a passionately lucid attack on the incumbent. BTW, Couhig endorsed Nagin in the runoff.
There were rumors around New Orleans that Landrieu was already looking ahead, confident of victory in the Mayor's race and conceiving of it as a stepping stone to national office. If so, he won. His campaign puts him in the mainstream of Democrats on the national scene. He fits right in.
UPDATE: Another Friday column, from the T-P's Lolis Eric Elie, spotlights what I thought was Landrieu's signal failure during the MSNBC debate, his failure to best Nagin in answering Chris Matthews' repetition of the "why rebuild New Orleans" question. Notice that, to New Orleanians, at least those with newspaper columns, the primacy of the Corps in the drowning of the city is taken for granted, based on what's been locally reported. It's the failure of the national media to report those facts that set the table for the "why rebuild" question, and Landrieu's trademark tepidity showed itself dramatically in that answer.