Southern Democrats have long survived due to local roots, a conservative streak and a family connection to the state stretching back at least a generation. Mary Landrieu checks off all these boxes (or at least she did). She has local roots to the state’s remaining Democratic establishment, a conservative voting streak (tempered since 2008) and her father, Moon Landrieu, was a white, two-term mayor of New Orleans. Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is carrying on the family torch as the current mayor of New Orleans.
Like other Southern Democrats, Landrieu’s brand has been irreparably damaged under the Obama administration. Her votes in support of the Stimulus and Obamacare stand as tributes to her belief in support for party over state interests. These votes largely explain why fellow Southern red state Senators Kay Hagan and Mark Pryor lost their bids for reelection in November.
Technically, Landrieu did not lose in November. She won a plurality of the three-way vote. Louisiana uses a jungle primary runoff system where all candidates run on the same ballot (regardless of party) and if no single candidate hits 50% the top two vote getters compete again on the first Tuesday in December. This is where Landrieu finds herself. Despite winning 42% in the jungle primary her opponents, Congressman Bill Cassidy and Rob Manness combined to get 57% of the overall vote. Landrieu faces Cassidy in the run-off, a solid candidate who has done little to impassion liberals to fight to save Landrieu.
There are a number of reasons why Landrieu finds her bid for reelection bordering on the impossible. Below are four reasons that particularly stand out.
1. 18%: This is the share of the white vote Landrieu received in November. She overwhelmingly carried black voters, about a third of the electorate. But she cannot afford to lose the other two third’s of the electorate 82%-18%. In 2008 she won 33% of whites who compromised 65% of the electorate and blacks 96%-2% when they made up 31% of the electorate. In November, blacks made up 30% of the electorate but whites still a strong 64%. Landrieu desperately needs to up her standing with whites, winning close to 30% and get the electorate to be 30% black. But both are questionable. Whites have largely turned away from the party and blacks tend not to turn out in midterms.
2. Geography: Landrieu’s political problem is also geographical. Historically, Landrieu has won traditionally majority-white conservative Democratic counties. This historical performance actually matches up pretty closely with the way the Senate map shaped up after the three-way race. But take Maness out of the equation and Landrieu wins only a narrow strip of majority black counties bordering Mississippi and Orleans Parish. The margins by which she loses the Parrishes surrounding Orleans eliminate any advantage she gets and her loss margins in the rural areas of the state account for her weak showing of 42% on Nov. 4th.
3. Landrieu Name: Before the Age of Obama the Landrieu name was dominant in Louisiana. But since Obama the name has become synonymous with the National Democratic Party and the liberal agenda. Landrieu’s politically independent reputation is all but gone and many conservative groups see her defeat as yet another repudiation of the Obama agenda. Ironically, Landrieu is politically independent enough from the national Democratic brand that liberal outside groups have vowed not to spend to help her in December.
4. Seniority: Only one Republican has gotten reelected in the last six years campaigning on bringing home the bacon (Thad Cochran). No Democrat has been able to succeed at it this cycle. But Landrieu has tried. In the run-up to November she campaigned hard on her seniority and warned the state would lose out if she was unseated. She promised to protect the state’s natural gas and oil industry as epitomized by Keystone. But with Republicans guaranteed to take the Senate regardless of the December results her claim is meaningless. Now she is on the attack, unlikely to change the general direction of the race.
At last count conservative outside groups and Republican affiliated PAC’s have vowed to spend over $7 million on the race. Democrats and their outside groups a meager $500,000. This 13-1 spending disparity is partly explaining why some report that for every ad Landrieu has run, 96 counter ads hit the airwaves. Republicans plan to invest almost $2 million beyond ads in direct mail and voter mobilization to make sure Maness voters do not stay home.
Perhaps the only thing Cassidy’s camp has to worry about is overconfidence. His campaign has him polling at about 57% and Landrieu barely above 40%. But those polls are also capturing Maness voters coming home and voting for Cassidy. Not all will. Cassidy has not been content to run out the clock. His campaign has hit hard the idea of unity. Cassidy has campaigned with Maness and held a unity rally with his former primary opponent. National figures from various wings of the party have come to the state to campaign for Cassidy. All the pieces for a Cassidy victory seem to be in place.
Perhaps the final nail in Landrieu’s coffin is one many thought was Cassidy’s greatest weakness-his no-nonsense policy wonkishness. In a state that has numerous colorful figures, past and present, including disgraced former Democratic Governor Duke Edwards who is running to reclaim his old House seat, the just defeated kissing Congressman and Senator David Vitter, Cassidy stands out for his lack of a distinguishing trait.
Landrieu has had the benefit of running against past opponents that have hurt themselves by saying inappropriate things. The closest Cassidy has come to this is saying Harry Reid ran the Senate like a “plantation.” He quickly apologized. Other than this Cassidy has given the media and the Landreiu campaign ammo to throw at him.
Landrieu’s last gasp efforts have probably already come and gone. Days before the November election she said she is in electoral trouble because it is tough to be a “woman” in the South. Nevermind she has been elected three times (her run-off opponent in 2002 was a woman). Worse, and far more damaging politically, she attacked Cassidy for not being around in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Cassidy responded via tweet he was setting up an emergency center to treat the storm’s victims.
A recent survey from Magellan adds insult to injury for Landrieu. The poll finds Cassidy ahead 57%-41%, Obama’s approval at 32% and despite Democrats representing 51% of the electorate 62% think the GOP better represents their views. As the survey says this is because many white Democrats have turned to the GOP to represent their social and economic interests. Landrieu has a dismal 58% unfavorable rating.
Stick a fork in it. This race is over. Mary Landrieu has been a political survivor before. But not this time. Landrieu is done!