Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré stood in the red-dawn morning of another day saving lives and crushing civil disorder in post-Katrina New Orleans. The man cut an outsized figure, instantly iconic – “that John Wayne dude," in the words of the city's mayor.
Back then, in 2005, I had been granted a 3:30 a.m. interview with him as a chopper began turning its rotors nearby. I had to ask: “You gonna run for president or what?”
The general shrugged that nonsense off. But there was a sense not just among reporters but in all New Orleans that the person credited with pulling the Crescent City out of the muck was destined for more than a quiet retirement tending collards in his prolific backyard garden.
Honoré retired from the Army last year and is now an educational consultant focusing on emergency preparedness. On Monday, he brushed off as “a serious rumor” the notion that he’s ready to take on scandal-plagued Sen. David Vitter (R) for his seat next year.
On the other hand, Honoré announced Saturday that he’s moving back to Louisiana from his comfy Georgia ranch. “I’ll be on the streets with you ... to once again claim this city as one of the greatest cities in America,” he said in a New Orleans speech marking the fourth anniversary of hurricane Katrina.
“All he’s got to say is ‘stuck on stupid,’ and Vitter is toast,” the BayouBuzz quoted a Republican insider as saying. That phrase, which Honoré directed at a reporter in 2005, became a rallying cry for New Orleanians, emblematic of his “can do” message for whipping into shape a relief effort bogged down in a bureaucratic swamp.
But the general, a Creole who retains a home in Zachary, La., from where he votes, has reasons to be cautious, political analysts say.
Senator Vitter is doing some prodigious fundraising, raising $3 million so far for his reelection bid. That's despite his apologies for using an escort service in 2007. What's more, Vitter is a “ferocious campaigner,” sources say.
The überconservative and influential Arcadia region has largely come to his side, and there are questions about how Honoré’s more-liberal views would play there. Honoré would probably struggle in a Republican primary, but he could be hard to beat in a runoff, political experts say.
"When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of a campaign, you've got to have more than a cute bumper-sticker slogan," says Chad Rogers, editor of The Dead Pelican, a popular Lousiana news website. He believes rumors of an Honoré campaign amount to wishful thinking by Vitter's political enemies. " 'Stuck on stupid' is a good slogan, but you've got to have some stances on taxes, globalization, and healthcare," he says.
No matter what Honoré decides, it’s clear that Louisiana residents still feel they owe a debt of deep gratitude to the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his role in establishing order in an unmoored city.
“Honoré came in at a very difficult time with great presence and stature, and he succeeded,” says New Orleans political consultant Greg Rigamer.
Asked whether he'd support him, Mayor Nagin said: "Oh, man, I'll support that guy any way he goes."
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