“March Madness” of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments descending upon us provides the perfect metaphor for the increasingly precarious electoral position of Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu – by only trading baskets with the prime competitor for her reelection Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, she will lose the game.
At a certain point in a game, when a team has a lead on another, it no longer must resort to an aggressive, potential risky style of play that could result in unwise shot selection or turnovers. Instead, it merely must counter moves by the opposition, where the opposition in fact must embark on this style of play in order to make up ground on the leader. And this situation as it pertains to the 2014 Senate election in Louisiana was reiterated in the denouement of changes to flood insurance legislation widely criticized particularly in the southern part of the state.
The recently-changed law, garnering votes of both Landrieu (even though she publicly admitted it would increase some rates dramatically) and Cassidy, set up stark and immediate rate increases for some policyholders, and potentially for buyers of property. To review, Landrieu sponsored a bill to offer some rate relief, only to have her co-partisan Pres. Barack Obama initially cut her down when his staff said the bill would draw a veto because it increased taxpayer costs. Then Cassidy got attached to the successful budget bill a measure to delay implementation of the then-law. This made him appear more effective than Landrieu.
However, the quest more alterations continued. Despite her party controlling the Senate, Landrieu got no traction in the chamber with an idea to string out the delay further. But in the House, after batting down a version like Landrieu’s the minority Democrats tried repeatedly to offer, the majority Republicans got together, with Cassidy among the leaders, to come up with the permanent fix that would slow the rates of increases over a longer period of time and grandfather in rates on homestead properties bought then in compliance with existing flood protection that then subsequently are sold even if classifications had changed. Cassidy and a few others shepherded it through the House, despite initial leadership objections.
Some Senate Republicans still had reservations about it, and with the greater power afforded to individual senators, could have blocked the bill. But Republican Sen. David Vitter and one other from the GOP took the lead in overcoming the objections and it got through. With a financing mechanism now in place that essentially increases costs for low-risk policyholders to offset reductions in premiums coming from high-risk ratepayers, the White House said it would go along, as Obama verbally committed to Landrieu. He should sign it into law sometime this week.
This issue, had it remained an issue, could have become the second-biggest of the campaign in a state with only 1.5 percent of the nation’s population yet whose residents hold 9 percent of National Flood Insurance Program policies. And it’s one that Landrieu could have used to improve a position that at best could be described as being in a tossup. Her numbers continue to reflect dismal reelection prospects: aninability to get more than 45 percent of the intended vote even withpolling that reflects a less-likely and favorable scenario for her,majorities unwilling to reelect her or approve of her job performance, and continuing to suffer from her deciding vote status on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that even has caused true believers from the Angry Left in spite of themselves to downplay her chances at victory.
Yet that issue got taken off the table, and in a way, if any argument can be made on it, that Cassidy proved more able and effective in causing that. (Even Vitter seemed to be more instrumental in its passage, which can’t hurt his nascent 2015 gubernatorial bid.) And surveying the electoral landscape, any such defining issues that could differentiate Cassidy from her favorably in her direction seem perhaps barren. Obama continues to negate her argument that she is “indispensable” because of her effectiveness by having his minions slow-walk any potential approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, but even if his administration approves it in the coming months, all the while Landrieu’s flailing about to get his approval, it will be clear it was nothing she did and Cassidy supports it, too – but at least he was not put into a position by a president of his own party to be made to look ineffective.
Worse, with whatever relatively low-salience issues that remain out there that could provide differentiation Landrieu keeps turning the ball over rather than scoring. The latest was an absolutely unforced error in voting for a top Justice Department nominee who defended both in court and publicly convicted police murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal in an attempt to free him despite overwhelming evidence against him. It has become a political litmus test on the left to show support of these efforts, but for others rightly raises questions about the judgment of anybody who does so. That Landrieu’s error in casting a vote that could raise the ire of the law enforcement community passed this test was made all the worse by its lack of necessity: enough Senate Democrats voted against it that it failed anyway. This only plays into the hands of her opponents, like Cassidy, who point out her unswerving loyalty to Obama generally goes against the best interests and wishes of Louisianans.
In short, Landrieu is behind and cannot afford to trade baskets with Cassidy to win reelection. But, as the flood insurance issue demonstrated, that seems to be the best she can do, and the opportunities for finding the kind of issues through which she can make up ground, if her supporters’ behavior is any indication, seem far and few between. The clock is ticking and, absent something popping up wholly novel and unanticipated (which in seven months is not unthinkable), time is not on her side.