NEW ORLEANS - Fat Tuesday and Super Tuesday collided yesterday on the streets of the French Quarter, where revelers added a distinctly political flavor to the city's annual raucous bash.
Among the men dressed in pink baby-doll pajamas or leather loincloths and the women flashing glimpses of flesh for beads were costumes with political themes.
Louisiana voters don't head to the polls until Saturday, so many let their costumes make political statements on a day when 24 other states were holding presidential primaries and caucuses.
Kim Disselliss, 49, simply taped a sign to her back showing Hillary Clinton dressed as George Washington and reading, "Monica Lewinsky's X-Boyfriend's Wife for President. 2 for 1 Sale."
Mardi Gras - also known as Fat Tuesday - is the end to the pre-Lenten Carnival season. The celebration characterized by family-friendly parades uptown and in the suburbs - and by heavy drinking and lots of near-nudity in the French Quarter - ends 12 days of parades and parties.
Temperatures were expected to rise near the record of 81 degrees in New Orleans, and crowds that had begun staking out spots on the parade routes as early as Friday night spent the day collecting beads and other trinkets thrown from floats.
The celebration appears to have bounced back strongly since Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city in August 2005.
Mardi Gras crowd estimates hovered at 1 million in the years before Katrina, and the crowd reached about 800,000 last year. This year, however, some were concerned that turnout would be lighter because the celebration fell so early.
Kevin Kelly, who lives on the parade route, said the crowds did seem quieter. It was too early for college students on spring break to join the party, Kelly pointed out.
"And frankly, it's a good thing," Kelly said. "The city smells better without a bunch of drunken kids using every doorway as a toilet."
Clarinetist Pete Fountain, dressed in a tunic as one of King Arthur's knights, looked frail but happy yesterday morning as he led 100 members of his Half-Fast Walking Club onto Uptown streets in what has become the city's unofficial opening of Mardi Gras.
"Oh, I'm feeling fine. You always feel fine on Mardi Gras," said Fountain, 77. He's had health problems since Hurricane Katrina, but still plays two days a week at a Gulf Coast casino.
While the walking club was on its way, floats of the Zulu parade headed for their starting point. Zulu, the black community's oldest parade, was followed by the Rex parade, with businessman John E. Koerner III reigning as Rex, King of Carnival and Monarch of Merriment.
In Cajun country, costumed riders on horseback set out on their annual Courir du Mardi Gras, a town-to-town celebration. Hundreds were on horseback and scores of others rode along in pickup trucks or on flatbed trailers.
"It's just heritage. It's Louisiana. We're crazy," said Courir participant Cody Granger, 24, wearing what looked like surgical scrubs decorated with the New Orleans Saints' logo.
Sporadic violence has marred the celebration. At least nine people have been wounded by gunshots, six of them Saturday. Police said 1,100 officers, state troopers, and National Guardsmen are helping keep the peace.