Skip to comments.Republicans Outflanked Themselves in Louisiana
Posted on 12/09/2002 1:29:20 PM PST by TaRaRaBoomDeAyGoreLostToday!
NEW ORLEANS -- The Republican playbook for deposing Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was fine-tuned in Washington and battle-tested with glorious results elsewhere in the South: Recruit a plausible challenger. Unleash attack ads skewering the Democrat on taxes and abortion. And for the grand finale, bring in President Bush to campaign at the Republican candidate's side.
But something went wrong in the Bayou State. Landrieu, who just a week ago seemed to fit the GOP blueprint's definition of a vulnerable incumbent, held off the challenge and won a convincing victory in a runoff election Saturday. She beat the Republican, elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Today, as Republicans licked their wounds, Democrats crowed at what amounted to one of their few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous political year. Some dubbed the winner -- whose triumph Saturday dwarfed her 5,788-vote margin of victory in 1996 -- "Landslide Landrieu."
Democratic operatives and political analysts said the Republicans were guilty of political hubris, believing in their own invincibility and therefore overplaying their hand by relying too heavily on negative advertising, and counting too much on Bush's electoral magic.
Bush's eleventh-hour visit, and the relentless barrage of advertising attacks on Landrieu, may even have backfired, analysts said, and were probably factors in generating a higher turnout in the core Democratic base of African Americans.
"The president's visit energized the conservative base, but it also energized the Democratic base," said Marc Morial, the Democratic former mayor of New Orleans.
At a morning news conference today in downtown New Orleans, Landrieu stressed the role of blacks in her victory. Standing beside U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat who is perhaps Louisiana's most influential black politician, Landrieu declared, "The soul of our party is the African American community, and they stood up.''
Analysts also credited Landrieu with running a more nimble campaign, one that took advantage of Louisiana's demographic and political peculiarities -- it is poorer, more progressive, more Catholic and more African American than some other Southern states. She benefited enormously by her close alliance with Sen. John Breaux, the state's hugely popular senior Democratic senator, who accompanied her in many campaign appearances throughout the month-long runoff. The Democrats' "Breaux factor" may partly have offset the Republicans' "Bush factor," some analysts said.
But Landrieu also took other lessons from the Republican victories on Nov. 5. Chief among them was the importance of devising some message, strategy or issue that would offset the president's formidable personal popularity with a local issue that played to the Democrats' advantage. In Landrieu's case, the issue was sugar.
The day after Bush's campaign visit to the state last Tuesday, Landrieu's campaign began airing an ad charging that the White House had struck a "secret deal" to double Mexican sugar imports to the United States. The imports would hurt Louisiana's 27,000 sugar farmers and the state's $1.7 billion sugar industry.
The ad hung on a slender thread of evidence: a single, unsourced article in the Mexican newspaper Reforma. The White House denied the existence of any such "deal" to flood the United States with cheap Mexican sugar. Nonetheless, the point seemed to hit home, dovetailing with Landrieu's message that she would put "Louisiana first" while Terrell -- by now appearing in television ads side by side with the president -- would be a rubber stamp for the administration who would disregard the state's interests.
"The momentum definitely shifted when we came out with the sugar issue," said Mitch Landrieu, a Democratic member of the state's House of Representatives who served as a key unofficial campaign operative for his older sister Mary. "It played directly into our theme and proved our point that a senator's supposed to be for Louisiana first and Suzie [Terrell] and George Bush are linked at the hip."
The sugar ad was critical in reassembling the Democratic coalition in Louisiana of working-class whites, especially farmers, and urban blacks, about 90 percent of whom are believed to support Landrieu. And it played on the populist traditions of a poor, small state whose more indigent residents have traditionally seen Washington and big business as hostile forces.
"It reinforced a suspicion in Louisiana that we're going to get it in the neck," said John Maginnis, a political analyst in Baton Rouge, La., and the publisher of a political newsletter. "It used an economic issue to reconnect rural whites and blacks."
Meanwhile, the Landrieu campaign's all-out push to maximize black turnout got an unexpected -- and unintended -- assist from the Republicans. The more the Republicans flooded the airwaves with ads attacking Landrieu as a liberal, the more it galvanized black support for her, and reinforced their resolve to vote, analysts said.
"It just got out of control," said Silas Lee, a sociologist at Xavier University in New Orleans. "African American voters wanted a more positive message."
In addition, workers in the Landrieu campaign cited what appeared to be unusually aggressive Republican efforts to dampen black turnout. They produced a flyer they said had been distributed in black public housing complexes in New Orleans, apparently designed to mislead black voters.
The flyer reads, in part: "Vote!!! Bad Weather? No problem!!! If the weather is uncomfortable on election day (Saturday December 7th) Remember you can wait and cast your ballot on Tuesday December 10th."
With two Democratic U.S. senators, both of them Catholics, the state remains what it has always been: a Deep South anomaly. The ethnic and religious mix is different here. And as Louisiana slips in national economic indicators, its poverty may be influencing voting behavior.
During the campaign, Landrieu shied away from direct attacks on the Bush administration, fearing the personal popularity of a president whose approval rating in Louisiana stands above 70 percent. At one point, she even touted her record of having voted with the White House three-quarters of the time.
But today, emboldened by victory, she dropped her reticence. "People in Louisiana have maybe had it harder than most. They can recognize injustice," she said. "Because we are a poor state, people really do depend on the government. They are very disappointed at what they are seeing coming out of the White House, and they just expressed that anger."
© Copyright 2002 Capitol Hill Blue
You mean like the NAACP sponsored ad depicting Dubya dragging a black man to his death behind a pick-up truck?
Yeah, 51.5% to 48.5% is real convincing. BFD. Little Tommy Dasshole is still going to be the Minority Leader.
It's the first I've heard of it, and IMO it's much more likely to have been created by Democrats than Republicans.
The Administration, instead of having a free pass , now has its work cut out for it - and that benefits the people as a whole.
The otherwise statistics happy media somehow don't show us these numbers so as not to foster cynicism in the world's greatest political system, is my take on this...
Really ? I wonder how he'd explain the signs in some predominately black, New Orleans neighborhoods that read: Mary, if you don't respect us, don't expect us.
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