Under the direction of new head honcho Ryan Berni, Mary Landrieu’s campaign seems to be gradually flipping her campaign from its basic message heretofore of pro-business, pro-energy, pro-pork centrism to…something else.
There was the debate performance in which Landrieu spent an hour touting all the free stuff from government she’s endeavoring to deliver to the folks. There is the constant barrage of messaging in her advertising about Bill Cassidy’s vote to raise the Social Security retirement age, which was a bipartisan idea co-authored by Oregon Democrat senator Ron Wyden, coupled with old-fashioned Mediscare attacks on Cassidy for voting to expand Medicare choice a la Part D for younger generations.
And there is the race card. We saw that first in its flaming glory when Rep. Cedric Richmond, in his role as a Landrieu surrogate, attacked Cassidy’s emphasis on her 97 percent loyalty to President Obama as a racist ploy, and it’s inevitable that we’ll see it played more often as this campaign enters its final stages before the Nov. 4 primary and Dec. 8 runoff.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says Republicans are intentionally drumming up fear about Ebola. GOP officials say the Democratic senator isn’t putting enough pressure on the Obama administration to address the public health concerns.
Landrieu said Tuesday that while Ebola is a very serious situation, Republicans are using the virus outbreak in West Africa to “create fear” here at home.
She didn’t respond directly to a question about President Barack Obama’s overall response. But she said she was pleased the Homeland Security Department is tightening airport screening for passengers from three West African countries with an Ebola outbreak.
There are some code words at play here, and some subtle craftwork.
When you’re a Democrat and you decry those who “create fear,” that’s an accusation with a pedigree. It’s all wrapped up in old accusations about how Republicans whip up the rednecks into irrational concerns – about the unions, about the liberals, about the gays, about “science,” about gun control.
And about “the blacks.” Particularly the black president.
It’s a message calibrated as a dog whistle to the black community. And from a Democrat perspective, this is an intricate play indeed. After all, since it was a poor black man from Liberia, Thomas Eric Duncan, who brought the disease here, those racist Republicans have come out of the woodwork demanding a travel ban so that no more poor black people from Liberia or Guinea or Sierra Leone can come here – either to spread Ebola or to do anything else. Because those racist Republicans don’t want any more brown or black people in this country, you see.
That message has circulated a bit in the black community. And with racist Republicans beating the drums about a travel ban on those three Ebola-stricken countries – something no less than 20 different African nations have imposed already, one of which being the West African nation of Senegal which proudly proclaimed a few days ago that it’s Ebola-free thanks to its efforts – the narrative of Republicans spreading fear of a black African killer disease is just waiting to be exploited.
So Landrieu bucks the trend other embattled Democrat candidates like Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan have embraced, and she plays the “create fear” card as an appeal to base Democrat voters – particularly in New Orleans. Don’t be surprised to see this narrative develop and expand in her messaging.
Cassidy, for his part, isn’t even slowing down on the Ebola issue. He’s grabbing it with both hands, and he’s using the fact he’s a medical doctor with experience in matters of public health to add credibility to his call for a travel ban.
“If we have available measures to stop the spread of Ebola, common sense dictates we should take them. Implementing a temporary commercial travel ban between the U.S. and countries affected by Ebola is one easy and very necessary step in helping to keep Ebola off U.S. soil. As a doctor who has set up public health programs in the U.S. and worked in hospitals in Africa, I can say it’s inexcusable that the Obama Administration is failing to put a proactive plan in place to protect the health and safety of the American people.”
Cassidy’s name is also on a letter from the congressional Doctors’ Caucus calling for a travel ban.
And meanwhile the administration tightened travel from West Africa, routing all passengers to the five airports where they’ve set up “enhanced” screenings. That’s no more than a fig leaf of security, but the fact they’ve made that change can only be seen as a precursor to a full travel ban as politics dictates.
But Landrieu isn’t making a policy argument. She’s making a political argument designed to tar her opponent as a racist and gin up her base vote.
It’s subtle tactics like that which have, in the past, redounded to Landrieu’s benefit. Her 2002 sugar gambit, for example, was a political stroke summoned from whole cloth which enabled her to come away with an election she had no business winning.
But there is a problem, and a reason to think subtly whipping up the black vote in an effort to make a run at a turnout-driven upset in the primary is a bad strategy for Landrieu.
Which is that in the past, it was very possible to build a coalition of blacks and working-class or poor whites with a populist/leftist message while also observing a patina of conservatism – pro-life, pro-gun, pro-energy and so forth. But now, in the age of Obama, the things which used to be available to a Democrat fighting for the poor white vote are no longer available. She’s not the pro-gun candidate anymore, and she’s certainly not the pro-life candidate. And poor whites have put up with too much Obama, Sharpton, Jackson, Ferguson, Jena, Trayvon, Sheila Jackson Lee and the like not to notice they’re being lumped in with the black vote.
In other words, you can’t push the black vote without alienating the poor white vote. And vice versa, particularly since blacks are the majority of registered Democrats in Louisiana now and the black community is beginning to act more and more like they recognize that fact.
So while the nakedly race-hustling flyers making their way into the black community in Georgia and North Carolina in an effort to gin up black Democrat turnout might well make an entrance here, expect a lot more nuanced push by Landrieu. We’re already seeing it.