Monday, 07 February 2011 16:44

Louisiana Sen. Landrieu Could Have Hard Road To re-Election

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A third of the way into her third term as U.S. Senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu has let the world know she intends to run for a fourth term. While fortune always has favored her in the past, she’ll need it more than ever as circumstances continue to turn against her.
Landrieu epitomizes the notion of a career politician, serving in elective office virtually her entire post-collegiate life, first winning a place in the state Legislature at 23 with only one thing to her name – her name, being the daughter of former New Orleans Mayor (among other things) Moon Landrieu. During her time in various offices, including becoming senator in less than a decade, her accomplishments have been few and thin, nothing memorable or major.
But particularly regarding her continued Senate success, timing has been awfully good for her. In 1996, she barely made the general election runoff against Republican former state Rep. Woody Jenkins who some Republicans felt was too socially conservative. Jenkins may not have been the Republican to emerge had not David Duke, despite having been unmasked long ago as a fake conservative, managed to draw 12 percent of the vote. His presence in the field encouraged other somewhat prominent Republicans to run, their thinking that he would fragment the field enough to allow one to get past him into the runoff, as given the full information out about him he disproportionately attracted fringe voters that would otherwise had sat the race out.
Without Duke around, possibly fewer would have run and someone other than Jenkins would have had support coalesce, and probably would have been a stronger candidate against Landrieu. Also, this ended up as the last federal election where a general election runoff would be held on national election day, due to legal challenges against the state that forced the runoff to be moved afterwards. With Pres. Bill Clinton winning handily that night, that caused turnout to increase by 472,000 votes from the previous six weeks in that contest, a great many of which Landrieu appeared to get, pulling her across the finish line (although fraud may have made the difference as well).
In 2002, Landrieu also drew a somewhat weaker candidate whose advancement to the runoff was wracked by intraparty feuding and candidate implosion. She also avoided the small Republican advantage that results showed existed on the national election day, as now the runoff was a month after national election day, thereby increasing her win this time from less than 6,000 votes to 42,000. Once again, timing and opposition had assisted her.
Thus it would be in 2008 as well. Ironically, statutory changes now put the general election, without runoff, on national election day and even though powerful GOP backers had gotten it together to begin the practice of early agreement on a candidate, beginning with Sen. David Vitter’s election in 2004, the one who became the frontrunner was as flawed as those of the past, if not more. Treasurer John Kennedy, a recent convert, had run against Vitter as a liberal Democrat. Despite conservative economic rhetoric, three years ago too many conservatives remained suspicious of him and the big Democrat sweep that election cycle combined to give Landrieu her biggest win of the trio at 121,000 votes.
Besides circumstance giving her weaker candidates and favorable timing, Landrieu also has traded off an undeserved reputation as a “centrist” as the state has increasingly voted conservatively. Perpetuated by large swaths of the media that either don’t do their homework or don’t want to do it, in fact voting scorecards show for her a decidedly liberal voting record (an American Conservative Union lifetime record of about 23 with 50 being moderate, and the most recently-computed score for 2009 of 16) with a pattern of going more towards the center the two years prior to an election.
With 2014 being another midterm election slot, Landrieu might have fortune smile yet again on her. With the Pres. Barack Obama Administration alienating America, a Republican in the White House by then might give Landrieu a small bonus courtesy of the minor loss of support that Senate candidates of the president’s party receive in these situations.
However, luck eventually runs out – just ask former Rep. Charlie Melancon, who had a similar three elections where inferior opposition and/or tactics and favorable tides got him wins only to have everything fall apart for him last fall – and Landrieu’s number may come up in 2014. And one such reason may the same that doomed Melancon unless everything had gone his way – he was exposed as a liberal in a state with a healthy and growing majority of conservatives.
That exposure occurred not just because it becomes harder to continue to spread the Landrieu-as-moderate fiction with more conservatives out there ready to question it. For one, they are better enabled to question it as avenues beyond the traditional mainstream media have proliferated, such as this source, giving them facts and analysis of them that Landrieu and her fellow-travelers in the media wish would go away so as not to interfere with the narrative they seek to define, control, and propagate. The loss of control only will accelerate as technology makes information easier to collect and to disseminate.
Also, the GOP bench strength has exponentially grown since it had to rely on a paucity of statewide elected officials or U.S. House members to challenge her. With her as the only statewide elected official left and Republicans claiming all but one U.S. House member in the state’s delegation, in three years any of several impressive candidates who have the background and can raise the funds to challenge her narrative can take a crack at her.
Finally, Landrieu herself made her the focus of what looks like will turn out to be the single most intensely hated vote in the state’s history, on the Obama Administration’s health care changes where her affirmative turned out to be crucial as well as ridiculed. Even as she has tried to make people forget about that with other actions, that betrayal still lingers nearly a year later, as shown in a recent poll where only 36 percent said they would vote to reelect her while 40 percent said they definitively would not.
Although the poll gives her overall a 55 percent approval rating, that net negative on the reelection question bodes ill for any incumbent, as any quality challenger can defeat an incumbent with those kinds of numbers. The only thing that can save her is time, nearly four years between casting that bad vote and facing the electorate. Yet, as noted above, an increasingly aware and conservative public who can be fed by quality challengers to keep them aware of that and to remind the public of other deviations from her rhetoric that downplays her liberalism will tolerate her less.
The last statewide-elected Democrat standing, ironically enough, is little-accomplished, not very bright, and increasingly out-of-step with the majority of her constituents. That combination takes quite a bit of luck to overcome, but, as with Melancon, chances are that quota already has been exceeded when the fourth time comes around.
Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport and bloger of Between the Lines.
Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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