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« Senate Dems Begin Year On Right Foot | Blog Home Page | The Week Ahead: Digging Out, Digging In »

New Orleans' Next Mayor? Who Dat?

New Orleans has been in a football frenzy ever since the New Orleans Saints clinched their first-ever Super Bowl birth on Jan. 24. Overshadowed by that "Who Dat" mania is the city's mayoral election, scheduled for the eve of the big game this Saturday.

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is the presumptive frontrunner in a crowded field. The brother of the state's senior U.S. senator and the son of the city's former mayor, Landrieu lost a close run-off vote four years ago against incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin, now term-limited. That 2006 election took place only months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; the mood of the city is far different today, with the Saints a focal point of the city's resurgent spirit.

At a time when all anyone can think about is football, candidates are doing their best to capture voters attention. One, Troy Henry, even launched a campaign ad featuring fan favorite Deuce McAllister and New Orleans native Marshall Faulk.

But it's not just the Super Bowl. The city's Carnival season is also about to kick off ahead of Mardi Gras on Feb. 16. Aware of these distractions, city officials and the campaigns have been encouraging voters to cast their ballots early, and those efforts seem to be successful. A record number of ballots have already been cast, surpassing even the total number of early votes in the 2008 presidential race.

The intersection of sports and politics is nothing new, of course. Though he spent more than $100 million of his own money on his re-election bid, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg soaked up some free media exposure during the Yankees' World Series run last fall. In 2008, then-Senator Joe Biden ended his campaigning with a rally with Jimmy Rollins just after the Phillies' clinched a championship. And Fenway Park and former Sox pitcher Curt Schilling proved to be key players in Martha Coakley's collapse in last month's Massachusetts Senate race.

A poll for WWL-TV released in mid-January showed Landrieu just shy of the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. A final run-off vote would take place March 6, long after Saints-mania - and a Mardi Gras hangover - has worn off.