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Sen. Mary Landrieu is nothing if not a survivor.
Landrieu, a Democrat first elected in 1996 to represent Louisiana in the Senate, has been dubbed political toast twice before, during her re-election campaigns in 2002 and 2008. Each time, she defied the state’s conservative trend-line, winning her seat back with an increasing share of the vote even as the Democratic presidential nominee lost ground in the state.
This year, she has yet another challenge from Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has aggressively tied her to the unpopular president and Democratic Party leaders in Washington. Complicating the race is a Tea Party acolyte, Republican Rob Maness, who’s picking up enough support in the polls to force the top two candidates in the state’s “jungle primary” into a December runoff.
As with other Southern Democrats fighting for survival this cycle, the Louisiana race is more about the inhabitant of the White House than any candidates on the November ballot.
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A Democratic president hasn’t won the state since Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election contest. And President Barack Obama won only 41 percent of the vote in 2012, creating a significant headwind for Landrieu despite being ranked by National Journal as one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate.
Issues like the new health care law and Obama-backed energy proposals are thus playing big as the candidates jostle in the hopes of getting to a runoff-dodging 50 percent on Election Day. But that seems unlikely; the latest polling from USA Today/Suffolk University shows Landrieu and Cassidy getting only 36 percent and 35 percent respectively, with 11 percent of the vote going to Maness.
Cassidy, a Baton Rouge doctor more known for his wonkish health care expertise than raw political talent, has had some trouble knocking Landrieu – the daughter of the former mayor of New Orleans – off her game. She’s certainly comfortable on the stump, too, earning national headlines for dancing to “The Wobble” and lending a hand with a keg stand at a football tailgate.
But recent polls also show that Cassidy would have an advantage in the runoff. The USA Today/Suffolk survey out Monday showed that, with Maness and other minor candidates eliminated from the race, Cassidy has a 48 percent to 41 percent edge.