Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina Color Louisiana Primary Louisiana Democrats vote on Saturday, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina looms over the race. Both Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton have been discussing reconstruction plans at rallies.
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Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina Color Louisiana Primary

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Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina Color Louisiana Primary

Ghosts of Hurricane Katrina Color Louisiana Primary

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Another batch of presidential nominating contests take place tomorrow. Kansas, Nebraska and Washington State are holding caucuses, while Louisiana has its primary.

NPR's Greg Allen reports that in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina continues to play a huge role in the election in more ways than one.

ALLEN: New Orleans is a town that's still recovering from Mardi Gras. When the couple of dozen other states were voting on Super Tuesday, people here were celebrating Fat Tuesday. At a campaign appearance yesterday at Tulane University, Illinois Senator Barack Obama took note.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I am sorry that I'm a few days late for Mardi Gras…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: …but I'm running for president and they can - you know, the pictures that might come out of me at Mardi Gras…

ALLEN: Like many states in this election cycle, Louisiana has rarely had a presidential primary as meaningful as this one. On the Democratic side where it's still a very competitive race, the 56 delegates at stake tomorrow would be extremely helpful to Obama or New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Speaking to some 3,000 people, mostly college age at Tulane, Obama talked about the issues still most important to people here in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast - rebuilding after Katrina and protecting the region from future storms. He talked about a woman he met at a shelter in Houston who, he says, told him, we had nothing before Katrina, we have less than nothing now.

Sen. OBAMA: America failed that woman long before that failure showed up on our television screens. We failed her again during Katrina. And tragically, we are failing her for a third time, and that needs to change. And that's one of the reasons I am running for president of the United States of America.

ALLEN: The question Obama and other candidates face tomorrow is how many voters will show up. Analysts and even state officials say they expect not many. But among Democrats, Ed Chervenak, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans, says he thinks it may come down to numbers.

Professor ED CHERVENAK (Political Scientist, University of New Orleans): African-Americans make up over 40 percent of the Democratic Party registrants here. He does very well among African-Americans, so that gives him the edge for Saturday's contest.

ALLEN: While Hillary Clinton has not campaigned here recently, this week she sent her top surrogate, her husband. In a speech today at Dillard University, a historically black institution, he laid out Senator Clinton's plan for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. In many ways, it mirrored Obama's proposals.

The Clinton campaign yesterday issued a statement in which he criticized Obama for initially voting against the bill that gave Louisiana a bigger share of revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling. Obama did eventually vote for the bill when it was part of a larger legislative package. At Dillard University, the former president picked up on that theme.

President BILL CLINTON: Hillary was for that bill when there was nothing in it for anybody but you. And I hope the people of Louisiana will remember that on election day.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: On the Republican side, even though Arizona senator John McCain appears to have sewn up the nomination, Mike Huckabee, former governor of the neighboring state of Arkansas, is expected to do well here.

While Democrats have a large registration edge in Louisiana, there are Democrats who don't mind voting Republican. Most recently in October when they elected Bobby Jindal governor. At the same time, they elected four other Republicans in the statewide offices, from agriculture commissioner to secretary of state.

Chervenak says one factor in the resurgence of Republicans in Louisiana is the state's demographic changes. Since Katrina, he says, some 100,000 voters have disappeared, 60,000 from the New Orleans area.

Prof. CHERVENAK: The disproportional effect has been on African-American voters, about 45,000 of the 60,000 are African-Americans. And the African-American areas here are overwhelmingly Democratic areas, strongly Democratic. And so, statewide that hurts the Democratic Party. Whether those, you know, solidly Democratic voters have gone forever, that's one of the big unknowns right now.

ALLEN: It's an unknown that could make a difference in November when Louisianans vote in the general election.

Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

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