Candidates Ask That Race Be Kept Out of Runoff

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, April 23 -- Incumbent C. Ray Nagin and rival Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu kicked off their mayoral runoff campaigns by urging voters and the news media to leave race out of the historic election here, calling in campaign stops for unity in the face of daunting rebuilding tasks after Hurricane Katrina.

But results in the first round of balloting suggest it may be difficult to do so.

The electorate in Saturday's election split along stark racial lines over Nagin, who dominated in the city's black neighborhoods of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward but struggled virtually everywhere else, according to an analysis by GCR & Associates, a consulting firm working on the election for the secretary of state's office.

Landrieu, in contrast to Nagin and most of the other candidates in Saturday's contest, scored relatively well among black and white voters, as expected, and he has used his broad appeal as a campaign message.

Nagin won 66 percent of African American votes, according to preliminary figures from GCR & Associates, winning by large margins in majority-black precincts.

"Where he dominated, he really dominated," said Greg Rigamer of GCR & Associates.

Landrieu won 23 percent of African American votes and about the same percentage of white votes, the GCR figures showed.

"I am most proud of the strong coalition that we built -- with balanced support in the African American, white, Hispanic and Vietnamese community," Landrieu said Sunday. "I am the only candidate with this kind of coalition that will be needed to govern and move this city forward."

The runoff is scheduled for May 20. In a field of 22 candidates, Nagin won 38 percent (41,489 votes), and Landrieu 29 percent (31,499).

If elected, Landrieu would be the city's first white mayor since 1978, when his father, Moon, left office.

Saturday's vote also revealed the degree to which Katrina's diaspora has shrunk New Orleans's populace and shifted the racial balance.

In the 2002 election, African Americans cast 62 percent of about 135,000 votes. On Saturday, African Americans cast 52 percent of about 108,000 votes, Rigamer's figures showed. The fact that the number of voters this time was 80 percent of the voters from the last mayoral election -- even though the city is half-empty -- was greeted as good news by some.

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