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Landrieu will seek re-election, likely to face Cassidy in 2014

23rd April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Three weeks ago, as the second anniversary of the President’s Health Care Reform passed, and the Supreme Court waxed upon its constitutionality, U.S. Senate Mary Landrieu sent out an aggressive press release condemning the “misinformation and political rhetoric surrounding the issue.”

She declared that prior to her, and her Democratic allies, passing the measure, “the private insurance market was broken and unsustainable,” “middle class families were losing coverage at an alarming rate,” and the state of Massa­chusetts, “where the framework of this law has been in place for six years,” has seen drops in uninsured.

In a state where the law ranks with nearly two-thirds unpopularity, Landrieu reminded her constituents that 50,000 Louisiana Medicare recipients have been awarded a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs, bans on insurance companies have been put stopping women from paying higher premiums, 45,000 young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, and 60,000 small businesses are now eligible for tax credits to make employee coverage more affordable.

It was a particularly partisanly edging press release for Landrieu, who has typically kept a low profile over the last four years, as Republicans have surged in Louisiana. It was proof positive that the Senior U.S. Senator has kicked off her bid for a fourth term in 2014.

Her contentious colleague, Senator David Vitter has figured that out too, and that Landrieu’s likely opponent is a protege of his, Cong. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge. Just to tweak his fellow Senator, Vitter emailed Landrieu’s list in its entirety to his closest backers—with more than a dash of irony contributed.

“Two years down this perilous road, healthcare costs are rising and health insurance coverage options are shrinking,” Vitter wrote. “A large majority of Americans continue to make it very clear they do not support Obamacare, and many, like me, want its immediate, full repeal.”

“Of course, some see it differently,” he noted, as a form of introduction to Landrieu’s letter. “Thought you’d want to know.”

The political spat was good publicity for both Vitter and Lan­drieu. And that she was taking a far more partisan stance comes as little surprise after the senior Senator’s comments in a speech at the Baton Rouge Press Club more than a month ago. Responding to those who questioned whether she would actually be a contender for a fourth term, U.S. Senator Mary Lan­drieu put to rest rumors that she did not plan to run.

“I will be a candidate,” in 2014, she told the assembled media, many of whom had speculated that since the New Orleans Democrat had not engaged in extensive fundraising over the past year, Landrieu planned to go the way of many of her colleagues—into a million dollar a year lobbying job on K Street, simply moving across the street from her current perch on Capitol Hill.

“For a long time she didn’t seem like she was running,” talk show host and Louisiana political expert Jim Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “Mary wasn’t raising money. She didn’t seem to be focusing on politics.”

That attitude changed earlier this year, as President Obama’s approval ratings began to climb, and winning seemed a less daunting task for a Democrat in increasingly GOP Louisiana.

Landrieu has won each of her three terms by narrow margins, 5,788 votes against Woody Jenkins in 1996, just over 10,000 against Suzie Terrell in 2002, and roughly 50,000 (out of three million votes cast) against John Neely Kennedy.

Progressively, Landrieu has increased her support in the New Orleans suburbs, Jefferson, St. Bernard, even GOP St. Tammany, offsetting the increasingly Republican trends in Acadiana. (The old joke of Pelican State politics argued that Louisiana is three states, the Conservative North, Progressive New Orleans, and Cajun Country. Acadians were fiscal liberals and social conservatives; therefore, swing voters in most every election. Post-2008, trends have put them solidly in the Republican camp, however.)

For Landrieu to win, she must have strong showings in Jefferson Parish and the metro to offset the increasingly GOP trend of the state, and for several months it looked like that the one candidate who could beat her there might run.

Having eschewed a Presidential bid, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the former 1st District Congressman seemed a likely challenger in 2014. Should Romney win, he could opt for a cabinet post, but such a position seemed little more than a consolation for a man so focused on sitting in the Oval Office one day.

With Mitt Romney increasingly falling behind the President in key swing states, and even a majority of Republicans nationally (according to Gallup) believing that Obama will win in November, Jindal, according to insiders, has begun to back away from a Senate bid in favor of running himself for president in 2016 (one year after his term of governor ends).

In his stead, the popular Congressman from Baton Rouge, Dr. Bill Cassidy has increasingly flirted with a bid for the U.S. Senate.

In theory, Cassidy, who represents a district that many still consider a swing seat, could appeal to swing voters in Baton Rouge, and overcome any advantage that Landrieu might have in the city. Some compare such a contest to the Jay Dardenne/Bill Nungesser election for Lt. Governor (though both were obviously Republicans).

Dardenne was able to garner support in the Capital that normally crossed party lines, over Nungesser’s talent for doing that in the Crescent City. The Lt. Governor’s 50,000 vote margin is thought of as a template for Cassidy over Landrieu.

However, Dardenne was an incumbent who had run statewide before. Cassidy is relatively unknown outside of his Baton Rouge seat. Still, pollster Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media & Organization Research (SMOR) noted, from his recent survey, he felt that Mary Landrieu would have a very hard time winning re-election, even though her favorables are over 50 percent.

As he told and The Louisiana Weekly, “Senator Landrieu’s positives are barely decent! Senator Landrieu’s positives are insignificant because she also has very high negatives with white voters. When those nasty attack ads begin pointing out she was the vote that passed national health care — good luck, Mary.”

“In our neighbor state of Arkansas, (more moderate than Louisiana) less than ninety minutes after the polls closed Senator Blanche Lincoln called her Republican opponent to concede. Senator Blanche Lincoln was a blue dog Democrat and considered a moderate (perfect match for Arkansas). Senator Lincoln was chairman of the powerful Senate Agricultural Committee (huge plus for her), which is very important to Arkansas’ economy.”

“None of this mattered! Senator Lincoln sided with President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform legislation. The negative attacks were brutal and she was trounced in her reelection bid! I have not talked to one political insider who thinks Senator Landrieu will be reelected. Please do not tell me the insiders were wrong in her previous elections; insiders predicted she would win, including me! Maybe if Barack Obama is not reelected she might have a chance, maybe.”

And, that is Landrieu’s essential challenge in two years. In her other three runs, she presented an image of moderation, that appealed to local swing voters. The defense of the healthcare law underscores its unpopularity with voters two years after its passage. Over 2/3 of Louisiana’s support its repeal.

Moreover, the Democratic Party’s fortunes have collapsed in Louisiana since the election of the first African-American President. In the last cycle, the Democrats could not field one serious challenger for any of the statewide elected office, including the open Secretary of State seat.

What Pinsonat has not polled, and remains to be seen, is if Landrieu’s fortunes increase if the Supreme Court overturns the healthcare law.

This article originally published in the April 23, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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