The Republican scenario to knock off Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014 had a dream week, closing with affirmation of a strong candidate with the promise of undivided attention in the quest with her receiving more bad polling news.
Yesterday, Rep. Bill Cassidy formally announced his intentions to contest the seat, perhaps coordinated with Rep. John Fleming who, after letting the Cassidy announcement get covered for a day, then offered his declination. Fleming would have been a competitive candidate but faced a significant disadvantage compared to Cassidy: many fewer dollars currently in the bank with the need to raise a ton of them.
While Fleming is the wealthiest member of the state’s congressional delegation – even including Landrieu – past elections show she will move mountains to spend to stay in office. For the two-year election cycle ending in her reelection 2008, she outspent her main opponent $10.144 million to $4.795 million and in the cycle ending in 2002 she outspent her main opponent $7.540 million to $3.721 million. Having the ability to bludgeon the opposition, which reflects both her fundraising prowess and the relative weakness of the other candidates, has been key to her narrow wins.
Fleming is not inept at raising funds – he raised $1.6 million in the last cycle to win easy reelection – but having only around $500,000 on hand meant a lot more of that would be needed, for even he can’t whip out his checkbook and lend himself $5 million to keep up with Landrieu. But Cassidy sits on (he says; the report won’t be in for another couple of weeks) around $2.5 million, the same amount Landrieu reported on hand at the end of the last cycle. And he did raise $1.8 million in the last cycle. It’s a sign he can match her dollar-for-dollar precisely because he is seen as such a quality candidate that can she cannot outspend, much less at the previous 2:1 ratio.
Nor could Fleming use a strategy of differentiation to separate himself from Cassidy to attract dollars to catch up. Fleming is the most conservative member of the House from the delegation, sporting a lifetime score of 99.00 according to the American Conservative Union’s voting index. But Cassidy isn’t exactly a raving liberal at 86.75, so he will contrast as easily with Landrieu’s 20.53. Cassidy also has been as outspoken about the many defects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), for which Louisiana majorities still vilify Landrieu’s decisive vote to pass it into law. The risk of having to give up a seat with that much to catch up against a guy largely like him made this a good call for Fleming.
And one in which state Republicans looking at the bigger picture will rejoice. Of the House districts currently possessed by the GOP, Flemings was the state’s most vulnerable demographically – it still favors a generic Republican, but it would not take a lot of wackiness for it to flip. With him running for reelection in it, it becomes a “live boy/dead girl” slam dunk for a guy who’s about a big a partier as Gov. Bobby Jindal.
While former Rep. Jeff Landry and current Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Chas Roemer have expressed interest in the contest, neither will get much support in the effort nor could mount much of a campaign against Cassidy or Landrieu. Landry’s slash-and-burn campaign for reelection but in a substantially new district would hurt his fundraising efforts among big donors drawn otherwise to Cassidy where he starts with close to no money, and Roemer is relatively untested and now might have more interest in pursuing Cassidy’s open seat. And with Fleming not in the field to divide it and give them hope of making it into the general election runoff, they have even less incentive to jump in now.
This came on the heels of polling data showing that only 36 percent of the public would vote to reelect Landrieu (unbelievably, actually about five points higher than not long after her Obamacare vote) and just slightly fewer saying they would vote against her under any circumstance. With her strongest opponent ever and apparently no real division among Republicans to backing that contender, probably the only way the week could have gone better for Republican partisans would have been if Landrieu had gotten caught with a live girl or a dead boy sometime during this span.
While state Democrats bluster, the facts are at best Landrieu (according to the likes of one and another left-leaning national prognosticators) is in a toss-up. That Cassidy is in and Fleming gallantly deferred in recognizing his colleague’s chances were better and his entry could only decrease GOP victory chances further limits the upside that Landrieu possesses.