Landrieu Hopes Only to Lose a Nickname

Posted October 20, 2008 at 6:24pm

Louisiana Democrats are becoming increasingly optimistic that “Close-Call Mary” Landrieu (D) will soon rid herself of that nickname by scoring a decisive victory on Nov. 4 in the one Senate race where it was believed Republicans had a chance to go on the offensive.

Of course, given Landrieu’s nail-biting margins of victory in 1996 and 2002, a 5-point victory for the Democrat in November would be considered pretty decisive.

Democratic optimism was buoyed last week by a spate of bad news for the campaign of Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy.

At a meeting of the Louisiana Republican central committee on Oct. 11, the state GOP chairman and several party members were so fed up with well-known Republicans endorsing Landrieu that they debated ways to punish GOP officials who break with the party’s candidates. The move came after some two dozen prominent state Republicans came out for Landrieu, including officials in St. Tammany Parish and Jefferson Parish, two traditional GOP strongholds where Kennedy must win big if he is going to beat Landrieu in November.

Then the national party dropped a bombshell on the Kennedy campaign by deciding to cancel its last two weeks of advertising in the state.

It was a decision that was reversed just days later when the National Republican Senatorial Committee saw a 5-point swing in internal polling in Kennedy’s favor, along with a positive trend that they felt was making the race tighter. And Louisiana GOP officials insist that the party’s decision to pull resources out of the Senate contest was not a reflection on how well Kennedy was running his campaign but rather on the simple fact that the NRSC makes incumbent retention its top priority. (And in recent weeks, Democratic challengers have closed the gap in polls in several Senate races.)

Still, from a public relations perspective, the original move to cancel air time in the Bayou State was a tough blow for the Kennedy campaign.

As one Louisiana race watcher pointed out Monday, “you don’t pull money off a campaign when you’re winning.”

Since then, Republican officials have had to answer more questions about whether Kennedy is even still in the race than why he’s going to win the seat.

Democrats have been relentless in their attacks on Kennedy, a Democrat who switched parties in 2007 before winning re-election as state treasurer. They are particularly eager to use Kennedy’s words (and his Republican opponent’s words) from his previous Democratic campaigns against him in order to paint him as a politician who changes his mind based on prevailing political sentiment.

“This is the strongest [Landrieu] has been” heading into an election, said Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge-based pollster with Southern Media & Opinion Research.

In a state that is trending Republican, Landrieu is running as a political moderate whose rising seniority will help the Bayou State as it deals with energy challenges and the ever-present threat of natural disasters.

Pinsonat said Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms were terrible disasters for the state but also opportunities for Landrieu to show how effective she could be to voters.

“She’s been the most visible person getting dollars for Louisiana,” Pinsonat said. “You hear it from the business community, and they are not fans of hers, but a lot of them are smart enough to realize that if you need federal money, who do you call? … There are a lot of people who say, ‘We have [Republican Sen. David] Vitter, maybe we do need a Democrat since the Congress is Democratic. If we need money, why do we want to get rid of Landrieu?’ [Kennedy] is fighting that too.”

But on Monday, NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher was optimistic that Kennedy is surging as voters begin to turn their attention to the campaign.

“This race is rapidly closing, and we wanted to make sure Kennedy had the financial edge he needed to win,” she said.

Kennedy’s campaign released an internal polling memo Friday showing Landrieu at 47 percent and Kennedy at 42 percent, with 11 percent undecided. That survey had a 4.3-point margin of error.

Kennedy spokesman Lenny Alcivar said the nation’s economic crisis and this year’s violent hurricane season have served to delay voter focus on Bayou State Congressional races.

But now that voters are turning their attention to the race, “our economic message, particularly in the past several weeks, has begun to resonate with voters.”

Alcivar said voters trust Kennedy because of his experience as a three-term state treasurer.

“The more Louisianans look at their pocket books amid this financial crisis and ask themselves who they want in Washington to deal with the fallout from a national and potentially global economic crisis, they don’t want liberal tax-and-spenders, they want fiscal conservatives with records of results. And that’s John Kennedy,” Alcivar said.

Landrieu press secretary Scott Schneider paints a very different picture of the race.

Schneider said internal tracking polls taken over the week showed Landrieu with a lead of 54 percent to 34 percent over Kennedy, with 3 percent voting for the Libertarian candidate in the race. That poll of 600 likely voters had a 4-point margin of error.

“Sen. Landrieu’s message of fighting and delivering for Louisiana communities is really resonating with voters as we head into the final weeks of the campaign,” Schneider said. “That’s why so many proud Republicans and Democrats are supporting her. We are confident that she is in a solid position for re-election, but we’re going to keep working for every vote on Election Day.”