In our posts following the evolving field for next year’s Senate race, we’ve never really discounted the possibility that Rep. John Fleming might come down from his Northwest Louisiana perch to make a run at the spot in the runoff opposite the incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu.
But Fleming’s potential candidacy has never really been the subject of a major assessment, either – largely because he hasn’t given any concrete signals he’s going to run.
That changed earlier this week with the circulation of a Public Opinion Strategies poll that Fleming commissioned which shows that (1) Landrieu is definitely beatable and that (2) Fleming has an opportunity to run to the right of Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has been assumed to be the most likely GOP challenger to Landrieu…
1. The political environment is encouraging for a Republican candidate to beat Mary Landrieu. President Barack Obama has a 40% approve/58% disapprove job rating in Louisiana.
This is similar to Obama’s 41% of the vote he received in November of 2012.
The generic ballot also bodes well for Republicans, as they lead 44%-34% over the Democratic candidate.
2. Against some relatively unknown candidates, Mary Landrieu is under 50% on the initial ballot.
On a four-way ballot, Mary Landrieu leads 47% to 15% over John Fleming, with Bill Cassidy in second with 14% and 6% for Chas Roemer.
Fleming and Cassidy have similarly low levels of name ID and undefined images.
Fleming has 36% name ID, with 17% favorable and 4% unfavorable. Cassidy is slightly better known, with 43% ID/19% favorable/7% unfavorable. Roemer has 39% ID, with just a 9% favorable/10% unfavorable image.
Fleming’s advantage over Cassidy is more significant than the topline results show.
Fleming has sizable leads among key groups, including base Republicans (by 13 points) and very conservative white voters (by 11 points).
3. In a run-off, Landrieu’s lead shrinks to five points against Fleming.
Despite a 63 point name ID advantage, the incumbent Senator’s margin drops to just a 49%-44% lead over Fleming in a run-off ballot.
4. After hearing purely positive information about both Congressman Fleming and Congressman Cassidy, Landrieu’s ballot support drops significantly.
Underscoring that her lead is based primarily on name ID, Landrieu’s ballot score drops to a 40%-29% lead over Fleming, with 25% for Cassidy, after voters hear positive information about each of the two main Republicans. Added together, Fleming/Cassidy combined get to 54%, which is highly problematic for the well-defined Landrieu.
5. A simple voting record contrast gives Fleming the advantage over Cassidy.
We asked a simple contrast question:
Now thinking just about the two Republican candidates who may run for the Senate, for whom would you vote if you learned … (ROTATE)
Congressman John Fleming consistently receives higher scores for his voting record from conservative groups.
Congressman Bill Cassidy consistently receives lower scores for his voting record from conservative groups.
6% WOULD NOT VOTE FOR A REPUBLICAN
6. After testing opposition research points on each candidate, Fleming pulls further ahead of Cassidy on the informed ballot, and Landrieu drops some more.
We tested eight opposition research points on Landrieu (focused on her spending and health care record), five opposition research points on Fleming, and just three on Cassidy.
The post-oppo informed ballot was 38% Landrieu, 32% Fleming, and 20% Cassidy.
The Bottom Line
Louisiana voters are poised to elect a Republican in the 2014 Senate race. There is no question Mary Landrieu has an early advantage based on name ID and definition, but her lead dissipates as the two potential Republicans become better defined. Given his stronger numbers with the base, John Fleming is better-positioned to make the run-off than Bill Cassidy. Cassidy’s more moderate record hurts him in a race that includes Fleming.
November 2014 is a long way away, but Congressman John Fleming is well-positioned to be elected to the Senate if he decides to run.
The poll’s findings aren’t earth-shaking. Beating Mary is very doable – she’s barely won three straight elections with no more than 52 percent of the vote, and none of the opponents were already members of Congress. And Fleming’s ACU and Club For Growth records are a little better than Cassidy’s, so if he can make the primary campaign purely about ideology – meaning, he raises as much as Cassidy does and runs as polished a campaign – then Fleming can perhaps sneak past him and get into the runoff with Landrieu, where it’s a clear-cut Right vs. Left contest.
The Cassidy people probably aren’t crazy about the idea of having to fight off Fleming in the primary – but a bit of out-of-the-box thinking might make for a different take on that. Because if Fleming runs to Cassidy’s right and Cassidy manages to get into the runoff, Landrieu is going to have a very tough time painting Cassidy as an out-of-touch right wing nut. The response there is “No, the out-of-touch right wing nut finished third. I’m the reasonable mainstream conservative guy who pretty much exactly reflects the electorate in this state, and you’re the out-of-touch left win moonbat.”
That being said, the view from the sidelines is that it’s a damn shame there isn’t a party primary rather than the jungle primary we have now – because in a party primary you can have as many candidates as you want and it still won’t prevent you from finding somebody who can win the general election. With the current system, the more Republicans are in the race beating each other up the better the chance that Landrieu can sneak past the field and get to 50 percent. That’s not a likely scenario, mind you, but it’s still something you’re nervous about if you’re a Republican.
And what that means is if there will be multiple Republican candidates, somebody is going to want to make a pretty strong third-party effort to hold down Landrieu’s vote in the primary.