As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week in a flurry of lame duck activity, one last Democrat has yet to lose her reelection campaign: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She’s not going down without a fight, but Louisiana Democrats remain skeptical she can pull it off.
“The Democrats on the national level are basically throwing in the towel on Mary. That’s how people are reading it here,” said Ron Nabonne, a New Orleans-based attorney and political consultant for over 30 years.
Landrieu finds herself in a political netherworld: she hasn’t lost, but many Democrats are going through the motions until the Dec. 6 runoff with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. The Democrats’ campaign arm has pulled funding, while the national GOP is still hard-charging. A Bloomberg analysis found that Cassidy and his allies paid for a whopping 96 percent of all the TV ads in the first week of the runoff election. Landrieu ads accounted for a mere 4 percent.
“She’s never been in this situation before,” said Bob Mann, a former longtime Louisiana Democratic strategist, now a professor at Louisiana State University. “She has always had the Democratic Party fully behind her, and she has always been able to make a compelling case that she was gonna pull it out. … The landscape is so unfavorable to her. It’s such a steep climb.”
GOP candidate Rob Maness, who arguably forced the runoff, endorsed Cassidy, and the two men reportedly went on a double-date with their wives at the Ye Olde College Inn in her home town of New Orleans last Friday. (Collectively Cassidy and Maness pulled 55 percent of the vote on Election Day, to Landrieu’s 42 percent.) Conservative stars like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have lent their support to Cassidy, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised him a seat on the Energy Committee.
A former Louisiana Democratic operative said Landrieu’s goose was cooked.
“She just can’t win. It’s just not mathematically possible,” said the Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The way you win statewide in Louisiana is you get 95 percent of the black vote, a good African-American turnout, and 30 to 33 percent of the white vote. And she’s at 20! … Where does she gain? If you put her at 23 percent now, how does she gain 10 points with white voters in a month?”
Senate Democrats quickly assembled behind an emergency plan to bring up the much-maligned Keystone pipeline up for a vote, which Landrieu has been calling for. (House Republicans responded by announcing they would vote on a Cassidy-sponsored bill to approve the pipeline.)
Landrieu told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday she would push for a vote soon, and within an hour, Democratic leadership announced it. “As long as I am the chair — and I still am — I am going to work tirelessly,” she said.
It’s a bid local Democrats don’t think will get the job done for Landrieu.
“Keystone pipeline? Gimme a break,” the former Democratic operative said. “C’mon. That’s not gonna get you there.”
Back home, Landrieu has courted fellow Democrats to help her raise funds. Her first TV ad of the runoff campaign featured footage of Cassidy stumbling in a speech and called him “nearly incoherent.” He called it “bitter desperation” on her part.
Complicating matters further is that black voters are not particularly enthusiastic about the election. Jacque Stuart, a member of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference in Baton Rouge, told TPM she hasn’t decided if she’ll vote for Landrieu or Cassidy. “If she’s just like him, I don’t know,” Stuart said, stressing that she was only speaking for herself.
Republicans have successfully crushed her support among white voters by painting her as a proxy for President Barack Obama, who is very unpopular with whites in the Deep South.
“The irony is if Mitt Romney were president I think she’d be fine,” the former Democratic operative said.
Perhaps the only thing that can save Landrieu is a major shakeup that changes the dynamics of the race. “She’s got to increase her percentage of the white vote by 55 to 60 percent of what she got last Tuesday. I don’t know how that’s possible unless Cassidy self-destructs,” Mann said.
Mann suggested that Landrieu could try something she might consider political suicide: invite Obama down to Louisiana in an effort to “supercharg[e] the African-American vote.”
“I don’t know how bringing Barack Obama down here to campaign for her would drive her white vote any lower than it is now,” he said.