1 Year Out, LANDRIEU & CASSIDY Each Hobbled

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by Elliott Stonecipher

Hobbled!
Hobbled!

One year and two days.  That’s how long Louisiana’s Democrat U. S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her main re-election challenger,  Republican U. S. Congressman Bill Cassidy, have until their November 4, 2014, Senate election showdown.  Given the problems besetting each of their campaigns, the two may be forgiven for wanting more than a mere 367 days to work them out.

Senator Landrieu’s Obamacare Nightmare Deepens

In a speech at the end of August, I defined the risks Louisiana’s senior Senator faced in her self-chosen and relished role of Affordable Care Act (ACA) cheerleader for President Obama and the Democrats.  I said,

“Obamacare is going to effect Mary Landrieu negatively if peoples’ premiums go up, notably, or they find out they have to change insurance.  Now, if either of those happens, much less both, that’s a problem.”

(Louisiana Public Broadcasting video of comments to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, August 28, 2013, here.  Referenced quotation at 10:15 to 10:50.)

So, two biggie and badie tripwires of danger threatened Landrieu in this context, and both have already been triggered. As of our nation’s first month into the operational life of the President’s – and the Senator’s – would-be overhaul of America’s healthcare system, the picture for the future is anything but bright for Landrieu.  She needs the ACA-related political firestorm extinguished, and fast.

Dollop of doubt?
Dollop of doubt?

Given events of the week just past, there can be not one dollop of doubt that Ms. Landrieu got her memo explaining how dangerous is the political ground she now treads, 24/7.  As the monumental botch-bollix-bungle of the Obamacare website roll-out now grinds into a second month, attention has shifted as America learns of consequential untruths the President and many in his party’s leadership spread to gain Democrat-only passage of a law increasing numbers of Americans do not believe can or should work.  There’s no more denying it:  the President repeatedly whoppered when he said Americans would be allowed to keep the health insurance they already had if they wanted to.  Landrieu at first did her do, yet again quadrupling down for Obama and his legacy effort which would create the mother of all entitlement programs.  But, in a single day of the news cycle, Landrieu did a complete about-face without so much as a thought of spinning it.  First, 

We said when we passed that, ‘If you had insurance that was good insurance that you wanted to keep it, you could keep it,'” as quoted by The Weekly Standard.

then, the next day, straight, sudden and starkly into a position 180-degrees opposite, as detailed by the Times-Picayune’s Bruce Alpert:

EPSON scanner image“And it was our understanding when we voted for that, that people when they have insurance, could keep what they had. So, I’m going to be working on that fix.”

I-was-right-Americans-are-wrong into We-were-wrong-I-will-fix it – in a spit of time.  It was, for all to see and hear, a political version of a Damascus Road experience by a seasoned, three-term Senator.  Few things can hasten such a conversion, and none any better than a poll coming in with evidence that electoral hell is quick and certain.  In addition to broadly communicated danger signs for Republicans and Democrats in the week’s NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, Democrat incumbents in U. S. Senate races – read: Landrieu – took a real whack from a red-hot Democracy Corps poll.  Kevin Drum, blogger for liberal mag Mother Jones, drilled-down to dig up evidence no Democrat incumbent could have imagined just days before:

“In Democratic districts, net incumbent approval has plummeted by 11 points, from +8 approval to +3 disapproval. In Republican districts, incumbent approval has gone down only 4 points.”

As bad for Senator Landrieu and fellow Democrats as these known problems are, there are signs aplenty that there are many others still ahead, some far more serious than when the program’s website gets going.  It may well be that the day is coming, before next November, when today’s known problems will seem easily manageable.

For Congressman Cassidy, Hell Hath No Fury Like A Spurned Jindal BFF

Who's Your Friend?
Who’s Your Friend?

Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District lower house representative gets no celebration time as Landrieu and other Democrats live the slow train wreck that is the Obamacare roll-out.  Back in his Baton Rouge area district, an early decision for the good of his campaign nets him a continuing and not-at-all quiet designation as “Congressman Bill Cassidy, who many in his own party say isn’t conservative enough.”

When Congressman Cassidy, a physician, was first identified by state capital Great Mentioners as “Bobby Jindal’s choice to replace Senator Landrieu in 2014,” the clincher was that the Louisiana governor’s top guy, Timmy Teepell, would handle Cassidy’s campaign from his out-of-government consulting gig.  If Karl Rove was President George W. Bush’s brain, Teepell, since before Jindal’s 2007 election, was the guv’s voice / stand-in / right and left hand / and enforcer.

Jindal’s Chief of Staff for years, Teepell was never far from running, or trying to run, candidates’ campaigns, and the Cassidy snag was to be the heart of a big payday he was putting together for 2012 through 2016.  In Cassidy, as then explained by the Times-Picayune, speculation about Jindal running against Landrieu in 2014 was also put to rest.

Looking back, it is clear that this early 2012 wheeling and dealing was about at the peak of Jindal / Teepell power.  Their political fortunes took a turn for the worse as the spring legislative session in 2012 was cued up, and before long, Cassidy’s nascent campaign “to replace Landrieu” got the memo.  Teepell was released, with “swiftly” an appropriately attached adverb.  Teepell, various sources explain, brought to Cassidy’s table a lot of not-good stuff that a few thousand Louisianans had already learned, many the hard way.

For Teepell in such circumstances, political scorched earth for Cassidy was expectedly not far behind.  While Teepell continued his search for the kind of payday only “his own” Senate candidate offers, Cassidy was suddenly beset by the endlessly growing charge that he was not conservative enough for Louisiana.  Tea Party candidate Rob Maness entered the race to challenge Cassidy on his right, and as Maness was endorsed this past week by The Senate Conservatives Fund, such was yet another certain declaration that establishment Republicans have a tougher race on their hands in Louisiana than ever should have happened.

Are we having fun yet?
Are we having fun yet?

Teepell continues to pepper Cassidy with regular one-news-cycle stories that some young Republican legislator or another is thinking of entering the senate race on the right to join Maness.  Just as regular are Teepell’s use of friendly in-state mouthpieces in quasi-news media venues to remind Louisianans of a list of other Republicans who are reputedly lined-up to become Landrieu opponents.  Each of these is actually some Jindal / Teepell state job appointee, friendly legislator, or other never-say-die Jindalite.

Perhaps more notable than Teepell’s effort to defeat Cassidy is the loud silence on the subject from Jindal.  The state’s supposedly top Republican seems to many not to know who Cassidy is, what he’s done, or what he wants to do.  Such is thoroughly expected by those who know Teepell and Jindal are never caught on separate battlefields in the same war.  Though Jindal’s approval numbers have tanked in Louisiana, and were, until the last month at least, 10-points or so worse than highly unpopular President Obama’s, he is still the go-to guy for in-state Republican insiders, along with a smattering of those elsewhere in the country.  Nevertheless, Cassidy is reportedly in the $4 million cash-on-hand campaign money category, and a batch of recent polls put him within a very few points of Landrieu, with far lower name recognition.

Given this non-stop intra-party warring, when I summed up my analysis of this race in August, I put it this way:

 “The best thing Mary Landrieu has going for her is the Republican Party. … The Republican Party has to get past all of those things to be able to beat Senator Landrieu.  That’s the fact. … That race is the Republican Party’s to lose.”

(Louisiana Public Broadcasting video of comments to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, August 28, 2013, here.  Referenced quotations at 10:50 to 12:00.)

alfred-e-newmanMy routine analysis concludes that a candidate of Congressman Cassidy’s gravitas, ability to raise the money required, etc., beats Senator Landrieu in Louisiana in 2014.  In Landrieu’s re-election campaign in 2008, with two dominant and well-funded candidates in the field, the Senator won with 52.1% of the vote, six-points clear of Republican State Treasurer John N. Kennedy.  In her 2002 and 1996 primaries, she got 21.5% and 46.0%, respectively.  In those general elections, her winning percentages were 51.7% and 50.1%, respectively.  This time, if she does ultimately qualify next August, she must run the 2008 campaign again, in a redder Louisiana.  The kicker?  Her 52.1% win in 2008 was with Barack Obama on the ballot.  The minority vote he generated for Senator Landrieu may never again happen in Louisiana.

Given the Affordable Care Act dramatics – possibly histrionics – now so awful and loud, predicting the outcome of this race would be silly; we know far too little.  The Obamacare joker is as big as the deck’s 52 cards spread out corner-to-corner, edge-to-edge on a proper-sized table:  huge.  If the issue’s substance even nearly matches the current what-if gongs and sirens, a nest of Republicans may be running here for the Senate seat left open by Landrieu’s retirement.  On the other hand, Obamacare problems may be kicked past 2014 with a combination of some repairs and some delays.  If, as well, nothing but small-to-mild premium hikes for a relative few result, with better coverage for the cost, the current fever breaks and fades.

Then, the campaign might well feature Landrieu vs. Cassidy vs. Maness vs. lessers as now seems likely.  In that race, Landrieu and the Democrats might well be joined by Jindal-led Republicans and the Tea Party to win a fourth term for the Senator.  If so, she becomes a political warrior of historic rank in Louisiana’s storied political history, and a generation of Republican leaders spend following years trying in vain to explain how such happened.   

Elliott Stonecipher

Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted.  Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.

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