BEAM: Energy Committee Chair Helps Landrieu’s Re-Election

State Republicans don’t agree, but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., got a boost in her re-election bid when she was named chairwoman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It may not be a big advantage, but when you’re in a close race it could make the difference.

Most public opinion polls from both liberal and conservative survey groups confirm this is a toss-up contest. The latest comes from Public Policy Polling, described as a “leftleaning firm.”

Dean Debnam, the president of PPP, said, “… The difficulties with the launch of Obamacare seem to have really taken a toll on Mary Landrieu’s standing.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is Landrieu’s major challenger, but there are two other announced Republican candidates. They are Rob Maness of Madisonville and state Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington, and there could still be others that would affect the polling numbers.

A runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy would be 45-44 with 10 percent undecided, according to the PPP poll. Back in August, Landrieu was projected to pick up 50 percent in a runoff with Cassidy, a lead of 10 percentage points.

Rasmussen Reports in a January poll had Cassidy at 44 percent and Landrieu at 40 percent. Larry Sabato, a respected University of Virginia political scientist, said the race last year “leans Democratic,” but now calls it a toss-up.

Critics of Landrieu agree her declining poll numbers reflect her support of the president’s Affordable Care Act. The Americans for Prosperity group of Virginia, which was founded by the billionaire and conservative Koch Brothers, is spending millions on Landrieu attack ads.

The Senate Majority Political Action Committee is countering that effort with an advertising campaign blaming Cassidy for the government shutdown last year. And Landrieu talks about “the possibility of unlimited, undisclosed secret money coming into this race, which makes it very difficult to fight against…”

In addition to her support of Obamacare, Landrieu has another problem. CQ (Congressional Quarterly), a provider of congressional news and legislative tracking, reports the senator backed President Obama 97 percent of the time in 2013. Cassidy only supported Obama 8 percent of the time, and that is a real plus for him in this state.

If the two leading contenders are virtually neck-and-neck at this point, the energy chairmanship comes into play. The Advocate Wednesday noted that Louisiana contains just under 10 percent of all known U.S. oil reserves, is the country’s third-largest producer of petroleum and produces over one-quarter of the nation’s natural gas.

The people of Southwest Louisiana know what that means in terms of an economic boost to this area. The conversion of LNG plants to export capacity means billions of investment dollars and thousands of new jobs. Landrieu in a statement talked about what all of this means.

“Today, we find ourselves in the midst of an energy revolution that has the potential to grow and expand the middle class in this century,” she said. “When we tap into energy here at home, we produce high-paying jobs right where we need them. These jobs pay the kind of wages and salaries that allow families to buy homes, save for the future and build wealth.”

You know where Landrieu’s sympathies lie when environmentalists say they are concerned about her strong support of the oil and gas industry over the years. She calls for more oil and gas drilling and for three years has been pushing for approval of the Keystone pipeline that would ship crude oil and byproducts from Canada to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.

Former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat, was the last Louisiana senator to chair or be the ranking member of the energy committee (1983 to 1997). He sees Landrieu’s new job as a “great deal” for her state.

“Oil and gas is No. 1 in Louisiana,” Johnston told The New York Times. “Being chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction is just fabulously important for the state.”

Most Republicans don’t buy anything coming from The Times or other Democrats, and they have been quick to try and shoot down any talk about Landrieu benefiting from her new chairmanship.

Roger Villere, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the new job means little because of Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He talked about Reid blocking any legislation benefiting oil and gas states.

“It doesn’t matter who chairs what committee, as long as Harry Reid is in charge, Louisiana will suffer,” Villere said.

Maybe so, but you can be sure many people in the oil and business are going to put the interests of their companies and their stockholders first. Mark Miller, a Republican and president of Merlin Oil and Gas in Lafayette, is one of those who said he intends to vote for Landrieu.

“She (Landrieu) believes wholeheartedly in our industry, and that’s good for Louisiana,” Miller told The Times.

It’s still early, and a lot can change between now and the congressional elections on Nov. 4. However, anyone who discounts an advantage Landrieu has by heading the energy committee had better put together some convincing arguments.

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