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One word sums up Sen. Mary Landrieu’s, D-La., chances in her Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy: Grim.
Already facing long odds, her electoral outlook became even more daunting after fellow Senate Democrats this week blocked Landrieu’s last-ditch effort to pass legislation green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline – a development that could have bolstered her political standing in oil-rich Louisiana.
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“I just don’t know how you do it,” is the general consensus on Landrieu’s prospects from a group of Louisiana political experts, commentators and even operatives from her own party after the results from the state’s “jungle primary” earlier this month, when she finished first – but with just 42 percent of the vote.
“She would have to almost double her white vote to win the election, assuming the black turnout is as good as it was in the primary,” said a former Louisiana Democratic political operative.
Indeed, Landrieu got the support from just 18 percent of white voters (who made up 64 percent of the Nov. 4 electorate) and 22 percent of white women (33 percent of total electorate).
“You can’t win an election in Louisiana with that,” added the former operative. “It’s just math.”
Piling onto the bleak outlook, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled its spending on TV ads, while the GOP has been pummeling Landrieu on the airwaves. Cassidy and friends bought out 96 percent of TV spots that ran in the first week of the runoff, according to a report by Bloomberg. Bob Mann, a former longtime political operative and current professor at Louisiana State University, said Landrieu is only on the air in two media markets across the state.
Sensing some overkill, the National Republican Senatorial Committee cancelled a wave of ads scheduled to air this week and plans to buy a “significant” number of spots the week of the runoff, according to Politico.
Still, there’s a reason not to count out Landrieu, who is now the last Democratic senator standing from the Deep South.
“If you ask anyone around here they’ll say she’s the only Democrat who could pull this off,” said Jeremy Alford, the editor of the non-partisan political newsletter LaPolitics Weekly.
Landrieu has already emerged victorious from two runoff elections in her 18-year career, and history is on her side again this year. An incumbent senator has not lost in the Pelican State since 1932.
Landrieu’s last runoff win came in 2002, when she faced former Louisiana Elections Commissioner Suzanne Terrell. Louisiana Republicans felt that if they could force Landrieu to a runoff, then she could be beaten (“This is our seat,” Republican candidate Tony Perkins said at the time).
Yet despite President George W. Bush carrying the state comfortably in 2000, Landrieu eked out a 52 to 48 percent victory over Terrell.
Landrieu defied odds again in 2008 when she was considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election. The GOP failed to field a strong candidate in Democrat-turned-Republican Treasurer John Kennedy, and Landrieu ran strongly with independent voters to avoid a runoff and cruise to a 52 to 46 margin of victory in the jungle primary.
Six years later, though, the political climate in Louisiana is much different. Back then, Landrieu was able to drive up her vote tally from the densely populated parishes of News Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
But earlier this month, Baton Rouge and Shreveport underperformed, despite a higher-than-expected showing of voters statewide.
While the Democratic base in Baton Rouge and Shreveport isn’t energized, the Republican base in rural areas of the state certainly is. And Mann says there is no sign it’s slowing down ahead of the runoff.
“I thought it might be, ‘We’ve poked the president in the eye and we can move on with our lives,’” he said of the state’s conservatives. “But they are moving ahead full-steam.”
The former Democratic operative said the Republican Party will continue to nationalize the race ahead of the runoff, painting Landrieu as a rubberstamp for President Obama, who is widely unpopular with white voters in the state.
“It’s a referendum on him; it has nothing to do with her,” said the Democrat. “Louisiana voters don’t like the son of gun.”