Skip to comments.Landrieu's Fate: Do the Democrats even care about the last 2002 Senate campaign?
Posted on 11/07/2002 7:43:03 AM PST by xsysmgr
Recriminations over the Democrats' Black Tuesday have Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, who faces an expensive and brutal slog to the December 7 runoff, turning the knives on her own campaign. Landrieu, who goes head-to-head with Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell, purged her political consultants in the wake of the national GOP sweep, and is planning to go it alone. Landrieu yesterday fired her Washington advisers, and according to a high-level Democratic source, is "preparing to go to war" with the national party to keep its tacticians and staff away from her campaign.
"Landrieu's a micromanager who doesn't listen much to advice, and she and her team her father, mother, brother, and chief of staff have decided she's going to handle the runoff their way," the Washington Democrat tells NRO. "The DSCC [Democratic Senate Campaign Committee] is going to send 150 people to Louisiana, but Landrieu and her people are preparing to go to war with the DSCC to do it the 'Louisiana way.'"
Regarding Landrieu's relationship with the DSCC, campaign spokesman Mark Mintz says, "The senator will accept all the help she can get." He adds that she split with the consulting firm of Strother/Duffy/Strother over "creative differences." Veteran consultant Raymond D. Strother, the firm's president, could not be reached for comment.
The Democratic insider explained that Team Landrieu believes nationalizing the runoff election would result in defeat, given the GOP sweep and President George W. Bush's popularity in Louisiana, a state he won in 2000. "If that's what they think, then they should accept the national party's help, and do what they want to do anyway. You don't turn down help from the national party," the source said.
But on the morning after Tuesday's historic Republican triumph, the Landrieu campaign didn't have many reasonable options. Landrieu, a one-term incumbent from a prominent New Orleans political family, spent $6 million to gain 46 percent of the vote in the state's open-primary system. Her closest challenger, former state-elections commissioner Terrell, a fellow New Orleanian, took 27 percent of the total vote, which was split primarily with two other Republicans, both of whom are more conservative than she (and who have now endorsed her). The total GOP share of the vote, however, was 51 percent, meaning that a majority of Louisiana voters on Tuesday voted Republican.
Landrieu ran as a Bush-friendly moderate Democrat, which made sense in the general election. But now that Louisiana voters can clearly choose between a sometimes-conservative Democratic woman, or the real thing, it's hard to see the rationale for her campaign.
This may be why Landrieu is suddenly running away from the "accomodationist" party leadership, which (the theory goes) led the Democrats to Tuesday's debacle, and seems to be preparing to do a 180-degree turn as a Bush-bashing old-style Democrat. Given Louisiana's conservative political culture, and the election feat of historical magnitude President Bush has just pulled off, this strategy has to qualify as a "Hail Mary."
"We're looking at a toss-up going into December 7, and that's bad for Landrieu," says Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis. "Landrieu's problem is energizing the black base, and that's going to be even more difficult with the Senate not at stake. I don't know why black voters would turn out. There's nothing else on the ballot that day, no local elections. She didn't get a particularly good turnout from black voters this time, and that's her base. She tried to position herself as a pro-Bush moderate, and that turned black voters off."
Wayne Parent, a Louisiana State University political scientist and expert on Louisiana politics, said Landrieu's worked so hard to convince the state's voters that she is a moderate New Democrat that she turned off blacks, labor, and urban professionals. "What happened in Georgia is very nearly the same thing that happened in Louisiana," Parent says. "The Democratic base wasn't really excited enough to get out of bed and go vote on a rainy Tuesday."
Informed observers say the Georgia races, in which GOP challengers scored upsets against Democratic incumbents Sen. Max Cleland and Gov. Roy Barnes, provide a blueprint for the kind of campaign the GOP can be expected to run against Landrieu.
"The Republicans will try to re-run the Saxby Chambliss election as a model," predicts Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Elections magazine. "You have a Southern state with a large conservative white constituency, as well as a large Democratic African-American constitutency centered in the largest city in the state. In both cases, you have states President Bush carried both times. You have Democratic incumbents in both cases, and in both cases the other Democratic senator not on the ballot is a noted moderate swing vote in the Senate. If I were Landrieu, I'd expect to be hit like Cleland was."
"The Republicans came in on Max Cleland and found where he'd voted to kill an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have withheld federal funds for the distribution of the 'morning-after' pill on school grounds," said a Washington Democratic strategist. "They didn't use that with Mary Landrieu, who voted the same way, but it's coming. The Republicans are going to make this a referendum on morning-after pills, the Boy Scouts, and needle-exchange programs."
Like the now-defeated Cleland, Landrieu voted with the gay-rights lobby in 2001 to defeat a bill that would have withheld federal education money from schools that, citing the Scouts' alleged anti-gay bigotry, refuse to let the group meet on school grounds. That's going to be hard to explain to Louisiana voters, as is this quote from a story in a Washington, D.C., gay newspaper: "Gay activists have credited Landrieu with taking the lead role in the fight to remove the ban on the DC domestic partners law. In committee meetings and in speeches on the Senate floor, Landrieu defended the city's right to adopt domestic partner and needle exchange programs, saying Congress should not impose its will on the city's
locally elected government."
It also doesn't help Landrieu's cause that she has a mostly pro-choice voting record in a pro-life state. You will find nothing about her views on "choice" on the Landrieu website, though she did vote to ban partial-birth abortion, and proudly points to her key Senate role in trying to pass a legislative ban on human cloning. Terrell, on the other hand, is forthrightly pro-life, though she faced criticism from a GOP primary opponent over her possible sponsorship in 1994 of a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.
What are Terrell's negatives? "She doesn't have any," groused a Democratic strategist. "If you did opposition research, you'd come up with nothing." Terrell also benefits from being a female Republican who is ideologically moderate relative to other Louisiana Republican politicians. In 1996, Landrieu, riding Bill Clinton's reelection coattails, only barely beat Republican Woody Jenkins, who had an image as a somewhat stern religious conservative. Suzie Terrell is no Woody Jenkins.
"She's a volleyball mom, someone who's still local, who has not gone up to Washington yet," says Maginnis. "Now that it's come down to just her and Landrieu, she has a chance to reintroduce herself, to show her human side. That's always been a struggle for Mary Landrieu, who has a tough time coming across as a real down-to-earth person. I think there's going to be a warmth factor between the two."
Faucheux says Terrell is not experienced at the national level, which puts her at a disadvantage versus Landrieu a disadvantage Chambliss, a U.S. congressman, did not suffer. The knowledge and stature gap could come out in debates, should the candidates agree to have them.
"Debates proved decisive in a number of races this year," says Faucheux. "I think they will be important in this one too."
While she may be able to handle Terrell in a debate, it's far-less likely Landrieu can handle Cleo Fields. Fields, a black Baton Rouge attorney and sometime-politician, has loathed Landrieu since 1995. Landrieu, the third-place Democratic finisher in that year's gubernatorial primary, refused to back second-place finisher Fields in his campaign against Republican Mike Foster. Foster won, and is currently the state's governor.
Fields is one of the state's best-known black political figures, and a real operator. It's not hard to see why Landrieu would want to keep her distance from him. As Maginnis has written, a 1997 undercover Federal sting operation videotaped Fields accepting a wad of cash from then-Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, who recently reported to Federal prison. Fields was never charged with wrongdoing, and never explained what the money was for. To many white Louisiana voters, however, his name elicits approximately the same response the name "Al Sharpton" does in Bensonhurst.
The comparison is timely and apt. As recently as this summer on his radio program, Fields intimated that he might not support Landrieu because white Democrats, in his view, take black voters for granted. Fields had as his on-air guest surprise! the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton helped hand the New York City mayoralty to Republican Michael Bloomberg by failing to support Mark Green, the Democrat, in response to what Sharpton considered Green's lack of "respect" (the Jewish liberal had the temerity to beat Sharpton's anointed candidate).
Making nice with Cleo Fields, then, may be necessary if Landrieu decides the only way to save her seat is by getting out the black vote. To be seen embracing him, however, would be poison with white voters. It may be a gamble the one-term senator feels she has to take. Says a Democratic insider, "Her natural inclination is to focus exclusively on the African-American community, to shore up the base to the exclusion of the white community, and that's her problem."
Landrieu's apparently not going to be listen to national Democrats any longer, and is going for a risky strategy that will try to use that independence against Terrell, who is expected to receive a windfall of campaign support from the party. "Louisiana doesn't need a rubber stamp, Louisiana needs a senator," Landrieu told supporters on election night. This made it clear she will try to paint Terrell, who, alone among Republican hopefuls, received $500,000 during the primary from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as a pawn of Washington Republicans.
Louisiana Republicans see it as a desperation move.
"What's the Landrieu message to voters? All the benefits she can bring to the state being the junior senator in a minority party?" scoffed one Baton Rouge Republican. "Besides, she's run throughout the primary emphasizing as much as possible how much she stands with George W. Bush. She can't say that if Bush comes down and campaigns with Suzie Terrell. How is Mary going to switch gears and run against Bush now?"
Indeed, when you consider that Tuesday's election became a referendum on the Bush presidency and a successful one, from the Republican point of view it's inevitable that the Bayou State will play host in the next month to the Republican all-star team: Bush, Cheney, McCain, Giuliani, and others, all barnstorming the state on behalf of Terrell, stirring conservative get-out-the-vote passions, and earning gobs of free media. After this week's humiliating national defeat for the party, there are simply no national Democratic figures whose presence in conservative-trending Louisiana would be a clear plus for Landrieu. A Bill Clinton or Al Gore visit might rally the troops in New Orleans, but it would damage Landrieu everywhere else.
How badly do the battered national Democrats want to hold on to Landrieu's seat when spilling blood and treasure to retain it would not return them to the Senate majority (a question Democratic voters may ask themselves on Election Day, when trying to decide if voting is worth the hassle)? Do they want it bad enough to scrape money from a nearly depleted war chest on a difficult candidate who may not be at all grateful for their help?
"Both parties could spend an easy $10 million to $15 million here, if this thing got competitive. I'm not sure the Democrats are going to be willing to do it," says Maginnis. "They're probably getting tired of spending so much money and time propping up Mary Landrieu."
Landrieu with Ultra-Liberal Feminist Nancy Pelosi
MEMO TO MARY... STAY OUT OF FORT MARCY PARK, and for G*D"S SAKE, DON"T GO NEAR HILLARY!
Landrieu: I need a drink.
Let me help you out...
Why stop there?? Don't forget to bring Hitlery, Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi (et al) to finish the job.
Translation: "if we tried to dig up any dirt from her FBI files"
Now that the GOP is assured of a Senate majority, the folks in Louisiana, in my opinion, would be foolish NOT to vote for Terrell. One would think that being in the majority would result in getting more favorable treatment for your home state.
This may be why Landrieu is suddenly running away from the "accomodationist" party leadership, which (the theory goes) led the Democrats to Tuesday's debacle, and seems to be preparing to do a 180-degree turn as a Bush-bashing old-style Democrat. Given Louisiana's conservative political culture, and the election feat of historical magnitude President Bush has just pulled off, this strategy has to qualify as a "Hail Mary."Uh oh. Mary sounds like she is going to give an early test run to the Democrats' seemingly emerging new strategy to run left. I hope her coming defeat doesn't scare them off of that disasterous (for them) course.
Then again, by the time that election rolls around, Pelosi and others will be entrenched, and they won't let a little loss like hers convince them. Might even make their internal divisions even more nasty.
I have stated that if I could have any job, it would be in advertising in Louisiana. Its going to be a soft money boondoggle and a good Xmas for those ad agencies running ads.
When it's edited and completed, I'll post that column on FR. The title is: "This Just In: Bush Defeats Clinton."