Katrina the Perfect Political Storm Too

Katrina might have been the perfect storm politically, shattering support for Bush’s key policies and changing, along with New Orleans’ waterfront, the political landscape as well. A.P.:

Population shifts caused by the exodus of hurricane victims from the Gulf Coast could have ripple effects for years to come in Louisiana political races and perhaps beyond…

The early thinking is the evacuees least likely to return to their homes in Louisiana may be the poorest – and thus, Democrats for the most part…

“The stars are aligned,” said one Democratic consultant. “But Democrats need a candidate with a message.”

[Political Consultant Elliott] Stonecipher sees the New Orleans area losing Democratic voters and a political network that was of great benefit to Sen. Mary Landrieu and other Democrats…

Landrieu was elected in a 2002 runoff by a 52-48 margin, a difference of just 42,000 votes. New Orleans was the base of her support…Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor, who also won by a 52-48 margin, faces re-election in 2007.

Ray Nagin, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans, is up for re-election in February. No one knows if the city could even hold an election by then…

On the other hand, Texas might make up some of Louisiana’s Democratic losses.

…[L]ocal races – for everything from school boards to legislative seats and perhaps even congressional districts – could be affected.

…With Texas’ Hispanic population surging and its black population growing faster than the white population, demographic shifts already are pushing the state toward the Democrats. Katrina could help hasten the trend.

Meanwhile, Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times tells why Florida Republicans are worried about the 2006 elections.

Even before the federal response to Hurricane Katrina prompted a torrent of criticism directed at President Bush, some of Florida’s most prominent elected Republicans and strategists privately fretted about the environment for the next election…

Iraq looks messier and messier. Gas prices have soared. The president’s controversial plans for overhauling Social Security give Democrats a big cudgel to hammer Republicans among seniors. Many seniors are likely to find the new Medicare prescription drug benefit to be far more confusing and less generous than expected.

The enormously unpopular Republican-led efforts to keep Terri Schiavo alive struck such a chord that some strategists believe it may have done lasting damage to Republicans. The White House and GOP-controlled Congress are reopening the volatile issue of drilling for oil and natural gas. Meanwhile, controversial U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris has emerged as the likely Republican nominee to take on [U.S. Sen. Bill] Nelson, and many Republicans see her hurting candidates up and down the ticket.

This all sounds like great news for Democrats, except for one little detail, Smith says, and it’s the same problem in Florida as nationally: Nobody home.

Meanwhile, there’s little sign yet that Florida Democrats are ready to take advantage of the GOP vulnerabilities in 2006.

In the governor’s race, no clear Democratic frontrunner has emerged. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa gives a vanilla stump speech loaded with cliches from past failed Democratic campaigns: He’ll fight for every Floridian and put school kids ahead of special interests. The basic Scott Maddox [former chair of the Florida Democratic Party] message is that he can give a thundering partisan speech. Most Republicans I talk to see state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua as their biggest threat. Smith’s inspiring message? He can win…

“The stars are aligned,” said Democratic consultant Robin Rorapaugh. “But Democrats need a candidate with a message.”

It took Howard Dean even longer to react to Katrina than it took Bush, and that’s saying something. By the time Dean weighed in, Kanye West and others had already crafted the message. Democrats need to get it together – now – or else settle in as the party with all the answers but no one to ask the questions.


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