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Katrina exodus could change political mix

I was wondering when they would get around to talking about this. With the huge exodus of poor blacks from New Orleans, it’s likely they won’t be coming back, thus changing the demographic mix of Louisiana and its politics, likely shifting it strongly Republican. On the flip side, the mass entry of typically Demographic voters into Texas will affect voting blocs there as well.

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. How big depends on how many people stay away, which ones stay away and where they end up putting down roots.

The early thinking is that the evacuees least likely to return to their homes in Louisiana may be the poorest — and thus, Democrats for the most part. That would hurt the party in a state where Republicans already were making inroads. If the lion’s share of those leaving settle in Texas, that could work to the advantage of Democrats in President Bush’s home state.

“I’m believing that the greatest displacement occurs among those who are traditionally Democratic voters,” said Elliott Stonecipher, an independent political consultant from Shreveport, La. “Based on sheer demographics, those who are Republican voters have the wherewithal and, we believe, the will to go home and rebuild,” he said.

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. “On Election Day there is a well-oiled machine that knows how to turn those votes out from specific neighborhoods and in specific ways,” Stonecipher said. 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. “If that’s compromised, that could be a problem for her,” said John Maginnis, who publishes a political newsletter in Louisiana.

Landrieu is not up for re-election until 2008. 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.

…In Texas, which stands to gain the largest number of evacuees, analysts do not expect much impact on statewide races. But local races — for everything from school boards to legislative seats and perhaps even congressional districts — could be affected. The place to watch is Houston, which has taken in the most evacuees, at least temporarily.

Richard Murray, director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston, said Republicans hold every elective office in Harris County, which takes in most of Houston, but do not win by much. “This could accelerate the tipping of the county, which was expected to happen in the next four to six years,” he said. While politics is taking a back seat for now to the urgent needs of the hurricane victims, “my Democratic friends are smiling,” Murray said. Bob Stein, professor of political science at Rice University in Houston, said the political impact on Texas depends in large part on how concentrated or widely dispersed the evacuees are.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding