Can Senator Landrieu Win One More Time?

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by Elliott Stonecipher

One More time?
One More time?

Yes, as we know, national political eyes are now on Louisiana, more so than other states where Democrats could lose U. S. Senate seats come November.  If those races end up as they now stand, our nation’s last election in determining which party controls the U. S. Senate would be a December run-off for Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat.

It is a fact that Senator Landrieu wins her campaigns, all of them in her career except the 1995 governor’s race.  In that long record of wins, she at times won ugly, too ugly for some of us.  For that and other reasons, Senator Landrieu now finds herself, by acclamation, in the electoral fight of her life.  Her political career may or may not end this year, and more than a few of us believe Louisiana needs precisely the showdown it takes to determine that.

That Senator Landrieu is our last Democrat standing among statewide elected officials has only increased her power.  Our state’s good-sized army of Democrat Party soldiers, from rural parish officials to U. S. Attorneys, salute and serve but one leader.  They turn a supposed “red” political state to one yet producing, in many notable ways, a deep purple political product.  That the Senator often works and votes in opposition to the will of Louisiana’s majority is well-known, as in her unflaggingly strong support of President Obama.  The most recent poll* on this race shows only one-in-three of the rest of us support him.

2014 Political Tug of War-LandrieuEqually dramatic would be the change if the Senator loses.  Louisiana would then send no Democrat U. S. Senator to Washington for the first time since Reconstruction, and the state Democratic Party would slip into a political purgatory unknown to it in state history.
A Misunderestimation of Senator Landrieu’s Chances?

Many national analysts now conclude that Senator Landrieu will lose this election.  If I didn’t know so much about her previous campaigns, I would join in, but I do, so I don’t.

Yes, it is true that the Senator took her seat with only 50.2% of the vote in her 1996 defeat of State Representative Woody Jenkins, then increased her election percentage to only 51.7% when, in 2002, she beat Suzanne Terrell.  Then in 2008, even with the supercharged Dem turnout for President Obama, she beat State Treasurer John Kennedy with 52.7% of the vote.

That’s an unimpressive 2.5% increase in her winning percentage in 12 years, a period during which other statewide elections for President and U. S. Senator have painted Louisiana a brighter and brighter political red:

2000, President George W. Bush, 52.6%
2004, President George W. Bush, 56.7%
2004, U. S. Congressman / U. S. Senator David Vitter, 51.6%, in the primary vote
2008, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, 58.6%
2010, U. S. Senator David Vitter, 56.6%, in the primary vote
2012, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, 57.8%

Yeah, But …

20140502-075325.jpgAn important part of a fair analysis of Ms. Landrieu’s re-election chances jumps off the pages of Louisiana party affiliation data.

Between the Senator’s first re-election in 2002 (scroll to 3rd quarter registration data) and now (June 1, 2014 registration data), almost a quarter-million self-identified Democrats have switched away from the Senator’s party – 244,938 fewer Democrats registered, to be exact.  Put another way, at the end of 2000, as Senator Landrieu was gearing up for that first re-election campaign in 2002, 60% of Louisiana voters were Democrats.  They are 47% now.

The Senator’s base of Democrats has been receding as fast as Louisiana’s coastline.  Regardless, even with a quarter-million Democrats melting away, she increased her percentage of the vote in 2002, and again in 2008.

The Black Vote

It is no secret that the Senator is as strong among Louisiana’s black voters as are many black elected officials.  In fact, the Landrieu political machine has been known to skunk opponents in some precincts, getting 100% of the vote.

In the here and now, there are more black voters today than earlier in her Senate years, effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 notwithstanding.  In 2002, black voters were 29% of the registration total, and today they are 31%.  That’s a difference of 88,800 voters, of which Landrieu gets 95% or more on any election day.

The Mid-Term Election Difference

Mid-term election turnout such as this November’s is dramatically different than in Presidential election years, and is particularly challenging for Landrieu and other Democrats.  For example, in 2008, when Landrieu was last re-elected, with soon-to-be President Obama also on the ballot, overall statewide voter turnout was 67%.  Two years later, in the 2010 mid-term election, turnout dropped to 44%.  More to the point, Democrat turnout in 2008 was 69%, but dropped 24 points to 45% in 2010.  Republican turnout in 2008 was 75%, and dropped 19 points to 56% in 2010.

Party Crossover Vote

Carry the AlligatorIn the continuing debate about how many Republicans and Independents will crossover and vote for Senator Landrieu, the Magellan poll finds that as of early last month, 81% of Republicans “vote” for 6th District Congressman Bill Cassidy, and 10% for Landrieu.  On the flip-side – a real warning for the Senator – 72% of Democrats say they would vote today for her, but 22% say they would vote for Congressman Cassidy.  Independents, too, break hard for Cassidy, 69% to 28%.

November or December?

As mentioned, the RealClearPolitics “No Toss-Ups” tally for the U. S. Senate today stands at 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Landrieu’s seat in the Republican column.  If that holds up, and no one wins this one outright in November, political hell will set-up shop in Louisiana for a month.

Now, according to the Magellan and other earlier polls, there is a statistical case for a primary win by Congressman Cassidy, as well as one for a primary win by Senator Landrieu.  The Magellan poll has the race at 50% Cassidy and 44% Landrieu, with 6% for the other candidates and undecideds.  But, the poll found a highly unlikely 20% black “vote” for Cassidy.  I believe that means Cassidy’s vote is overstated, and the Senator’s vote understated, by 4 or 5 points.

This one now looks like a dead-heat, with a December run-off.  It is undeniable, however, that a growing number of obstacles – many put in her way by President Obama – face Senator Landrieu.

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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* Magellan Strategies is a Republican-leaning polling firm.  In direct comparison to June 1, 2014 Louisiana voter registration statistics, its voter interviews in the subject poll oversampled Democrats by 2%, oversampled Republicans by 7%, and undersampled Independents by 10%.  These differences between voter registration and survey sampling percentages are not unlike those expected in mid-term elections.

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