NPR logo Mayor Nagin Stays; Lloyd Bentsen Departs

Mayor Nagin Stays; Lloyd Bentsen Departs

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He ran for senator and vice president at the same time in '88. hide caption

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Ben Barnes

A candidate for governor of Texas in 1972. A guest on TOTN's "Political Junkie" segment in 2006. He's come full circle. hide caption

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Al and Tipper

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss: Everybody remembers Al smooching with Tipper at the 2000 Democratic convention... hide caption

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Sen. Joe Lieberman and President Bush.

... Anti-war Democrats in Connecticut also remember this one between Sen. Joe Lieberman and President Bush. Ned Lamont, an Iraq war opponent challenging Lieberman for renomination, won enough votes at last weekend's state convention to force a primary. hide caption

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A second term did not seem to be in the cards for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He had gotten poor performance reviews following the devastation nine months ago at the hands of Hurricane Katrina. The city was pockmarked by abandoned houses and cars. The white business establishment that was in his corner four years ago had deserted him, along with white voters. A city that was two-thirds African-American pre-Katrina was now thought to be evenly divided racially, as many of Nagin's fellow blacks were forced to flee.

Nagin did finish first in the April 22 election, but nowhere near the majority needed to win outright, and he won only 8 percent of the white vote — not a good sign for someone hoping to win re-election. His opponent in the May 20 runoff, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu — he of the famous last name, the big-time endorsements and the money advantage (he outraised Nagin on a scale of 6-1) — was already measuring the drapes at City Hall. The Landrieus, including patriarch Moon Landrieu (New Orleans' last white mayor), had a history of assembling coalitions of black and white voters. A Tulane University poll had Landrieu up by 10 points. A 28-year unbroken string of black mayors seemed to be nearing an end.

And yet Nagin won — and not because of his performance in the aftermath of Katrina. He won because of his performance in the aftermath of the April 22 initial election. In the debates (and there were many of them), he seemed relaxed, repentant, optimistic. He seemed to speak the voters' language. Landrieu, on the other hand, appeared more scripted, cautious, filled with platitudes. A surprisingly large number of conservative whites, who have never trusted Landrieu or his well-connected family, voted for Nagin, who for all of his faults was seen as an honest politician — an adjective not usually associated with many New Orleans mayors. And while race certainly was a factor — 80 percent of blacks voted for Nagin and 80 percent of whites voted for Landrieu — the two candidates, for the most part, eschewed racially-tinged appeals.

Nagin gets sworn in for his second term on May 31. For the record, on June 1, the new hurricane season begins.

In Black and White: This was the fifth time New Orleans voters chose a black candidate over a white candidate since the city's first African-American mayor, Dutch Morial, was elected in 1977. Here is the tally:

1977: Judge Dutch Morial wins runoff over Councilman Joseph DiRosa, 51-48.

1982: Mayor Dutch Morial wins runoff over state Rep. Ron Faucheux, 53-47.

1990: Mayor Sidney Barthelemy defeats Donald Mintz, 55-44.

1994: State Sen. Marc Morial wins runoff over Donald Mintz, 54-46 (Mintz led initial election, 37-32).

Fun Fact: No New Orleans mayor has been defeated for re-election since 1946, when Robert Maestri was unseated by deLesseps (Chep) Morrison.

For more on the campaign, see the April 27 edition of Political Junkie ("Moon Over New Orleans").

LLOYD BENTSEN: The former Texas senator and 1988 Democratic vice-presidential nominee under Michael Dukakis died Tuesday, May 23, at his home in Houston. He was 85. Bentsen will perhaps be best remembered for his scathing put down of Dan Quayle during the '88 VP debate ("You're no Jack Kennedy") — an event that immediately entered the annals of classic debate one-liners. It should also be remembered, however, that the Democratic ticket that year lost 40 out of 50 states to George Bush and Dan Quayle.

But there was much more to Bentsen's career. He was first elected to the House in 1948, where presumably he got to know Jack Kennedy. He voted to end the poll tax (a courageous vote for a Southerner), and he called for the dropping of an atomic bomb on North Korea (a less courageous position). And he quickly became a favorite of House Speaker and fellow Texan Sam Rayburn. But Bentsen left the House after 1954 in order to make money. And he did. Lots of it.

By 1970, conservative Democrats in Texas were looking for someone to take on Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Yarborough was a Democrat, but a liberal, and an unpopular one at that. His views and votes on Vietnam, social issues and President Nixon's Supreme Court justices were anathema to the right. And while conservative Dems were looking to topple Yarborough, Republicans were preparing their candidate as well: a congressman by the name of George Herbert Walker Bush. Bush had run against Yarborough in 1964, but no Republican was going to win statewide in '64, a year after the shots in Dallas elevated Lyndon Johnson to the presidency. Bush was readying another run in 1970.

Bentsen got in the Senate race with the backing of the John Connally-wing of the Texas Democratic Party and defeated Yarborough in the primary. That left the Republicans — and George Bush — dispirited and confused. Their plan of running against a "dangerous liberal" was ruined by Bentsen's victory, and they never found their footing. Bentsen easily defeated Bush and went on to win three more terms.

He briefly sought the 1976 Democratic nomination for president, but his candidacy went nowhere and he quickly dropped out. In 1988, while he was seeking his fourth Senate term, he was named as Dukakis' running mate. Bentsen was able to run for both his Senate seat and the vice presidency that year, thanks to what was known as the "LBJ Law" — the Texas legislature passed a bill in 1959 allowing then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson to run for re-election and the presidency at the same time. Bentsen had no trouble with the Senate part of the equation, but Dukakis didn't come close to winning the presidency. Some observers said Bentsen was a better candidate than the Massachusetts governor and should have topped the ticket.

Bill Clinton named Bentsen as his first treasury secretary in 1993. Bentsen left the Senate to take the post — and Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since.

Tuesday's Primary Results:

ARKANSAS: The race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee is between former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) and state Attorney General Mike Beebe (D), both of whom were looking past the primary and to their November match-up.

IDAHO: Rep. Butch Otter easily won the Republican nomination for governor and will be the favorite in the general election against newspaper owner Jerry Brady (D), who ran four years ago and lost to incumbent Republican Dirk Kempthorne. Kempthorne left Boise earlier this year to become Secretary of the Interior in the Bush administration. Otter's seat in the reliably Republican 1st Congressional District is likely to be filled in November by GOP state Rep. Bill Sali, a strong conservative.

Next Primary Day: Eight states vote on Tuesday, June 6 — Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. Lots to say in next week's column on what's at stake.

Q: Catching Ken Rudin in an error? No way. But … wait … in your list of those who served in the House and Senate and are still living (May 17 column), you included Joseph Tydings of Maryland. Tydings never served in the House. — Stephen Hess, Washington, D.C.

A: I have no idea how I included Tydings on my list, because I know he never served in the House. Even worse, I hate the fact that Steve Hess, the brilliant presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution and a great friend, now has one on me. Grr.

By the way, there were tons of e-mails from those who listed all those I omitted. Ben Studdard, for example, reminded me that both of Georgia's senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, previously served in the House. Aaron Pratt mentioned Maine's Olympia Snowe. Adam Browning had Idaho's Larry Craig. Tim Harris included Max Baucus of Montana. And so on. This was my fault. I meant to say that my list was that of FORMER members of the Senate who also served in the House and who were still living. Not the current ones. Of those still in Congress, here's a list of those who served in both chambers. (Note — All are currently in the Senate, and all still living):

Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Wayne Allard (R-CO), George Allen (R-VA), Max Baucus (D-MT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Larry Craig (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Ensign (R-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Jim Jeffords (R/I-VT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Trent Lott (R-MS), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Harry Reid (D-NV), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Shelby (D/R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John Sununu (R-NH), Jim Talent (R-MO), Craig Thomas (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), David Vitter (R-LA), Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Q: You said on NPR's Talk of the Nation (May 10) that you didn't think an incumbent governor of Pennsylvania has ever been defeated for re-election. Not so. In 1835, Gov. George Wolf lost his bid for a third term. — Richard Winger, San Francisco, Calif.

A: You're right. And here comes an even more depressing note.

Q: Since you persist in pro-Yankee comments, you might want to mention that the Red Sox have a 3-1 record against your team so far this year. — Carroll Ann Mears, Arlington, Va.

A: I know, I know. It's now 4-2 actually; Boston beat us on Monday but the Yanks won last night. I'm always in a better mood writing "Political Junkie" after a Yankee victory.

REMINDER: "Political Junkie" is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, a live call-in program, at 2:40 p.m. Eastern. This week: the travails of Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA), New Orleans mayoral results, and the death of former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX). Special guest: former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, author of the new book Barn Burning, Barn Building (Bright Sky Press), and a longtime friend of Bentsen's. (Hear the May 24 discussion with Barnes.)

Speaking of which … Make sure you get yourself a copy of Barn Burning. Ben Barnes played a fascinating role in Texas Democratic politics in the 1960s and early '70s — at a time when the state was for the most part a Democratic stronghold. On today's show, I'm hoping to hear him talk about how Bentsen was able to put together the coalition of blacks, Latinos and rural whites that kept the Democrats in power in Texas — and what's happened to the party since Bentsen left the scene.

I should also tell you that I had the good fortune of chatting with Barnes yesterday for what turned out to be a mesmerizing 90 minutes. I distinctly remember Barnes' campaign for governor in 1972 and how he was long seen as the "golden boy" of Texas politics. That was more than three decades ago. Yesterday was the first time I ever got to speak to him face to face, and the stories were endless. The decision to add Dallas to President Kennedy's itinerary in November of 1963 … why John Connally switched to the Republican Party … Barnes' relationship with Lyndon Johnson … and why Barnes decided to remain a Democrat. The book is great, and talking to him was greater. Short of that, tune in to hear him on Talk of the Nation.

Also … check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections.

This Day in Campaign History: Columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson write that New York Sen. Robert Kennedy, currently battling for the Democratic presidential nomination, ordered a wiretap on the phone of Dr. Martin Luther King while RFK was Attorney General in 1963 (May 24, 1968).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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