BAYHAM: Where Does Mary Go From Here?

For someone who has won three straight US Senate races, Mary Landrieu always finds herself as an underdog, though more so now than ever before.

She wasn’t supposed to win the seat she holds in the first place.  Republican state representative Woody Jenkins was the odds on favorite after Landrieu just barely slipped past fellow Democrat Richard Ieyoub to make the runoff.  Yet Mary defied the political conventional wisdom and found a way to emerge victorious in 1996.

Six years later, Landrieu found herself on the ropes in what was a bad year for Democrats when the GOP made historic gains in the midterms.  Her opponent was state Elections Commissioner Suzie Terrell, ironically enough someone Landrieu had helped elect over her bete noire from the 1996 US Senate race.

With then-President George W. Bush at the peak of his popularity, the GOP on the rise and being challenged by someone who running from Landrieu’s own bailiwick, the Democratic incumbent swam against the political tide in the runoff.

And then in 2008 the GOP really thought they had Landrieu in a corner.  The Oxford-educated, popular state Treasurer John Kennedy was recruited to switch parties and run against Landrieu and the field was cleared of other Republican candidates so he would have a clear shot at her on the very day when the Republican presidential nominee John McCain was expected to drub then Democratic US Senator Barack Obama in Louisiana.

It was a perfect storm yet Landrieu weathered it well, racking up her biggest margin of victory yet.

Landrieu has been like Houdini, always finding ways to escape the most elaborate of political restraints.

Yet even Houdini met his match after accepting a challenge from a British brewery to escape a locked beer cask and had to be rescued.

After Tuesday night’s election results and the current political temperament of the country, it seems Landrieu’s hopes for re-election might be sealed in a cask, though with nobody to rescue her, especially from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of her previous three US Senate races, the one most similar to 2010 is her match up with Terrell in 2002.  Yet this time the dynamics are less favorable and her opponent far more formidable.

Landrieu’s best argument for re-election, chairmanship of the Energy Committee, went up in smoke Tuesday night with her party’s senate majority.  Her ground game with black voters was running on all cylinders and it’s going to be tough to produce more votes in a December runoff, particularly with Democratic morale being low.

The biggest difference between 2002 and 2014 is the electorate.  The GOP did not come together after the primary as Terrell was shived by Republican governor Mike Foster and abandoned by one of the Republican candidates from the primary, allowing Landrieu to pick up some of the disenchanted.

While Rob Maness’s supporters were resolute in their support for their candidate (unlike the other states where third-party polling was significant in surveys yet collapsed in the actual results when voters had their reality check at the ballot box) and some won’t get behind Cassidy in the runoff, it would be safe to assume that about 80% of them will go with Cassidy.  The same folks who voted to the right of Cassidy in November will be voting to the right of Landrieu in December.

Polling data has consistently shown that the Maness vote consolidates fairly solidly behind Cassidy in a head-to-head with Landrieu.  Those Maness supporters who won’t go with Cassidy in all likelihood won’t vote at all, with maybe one notable exception.

There’s no doubt that had Maness not been on the ballot, Cassidy would have won the election on Tuesday night by a big margin.

So where does Mary go from here?

Borrowing a page from Gerald Ford’s 1976 Republican nomination acceptance speech, Landrieu immediately challenged Cassidy to six debates.  Cassidy will probably not accept that number and his refusal to participate in other primary debates didn’t seem to hurt him when Landrieu attacked him on his absences.

Besides, why should Cassidy be locked up in a room with the liberal media when there’s always a Rotary Club in Vernon Parish to visit.

Also complicating things for Landrieu is that her party is likely to lurch even further left now that relative moderates in Arkansas and North Carolina went down.  In fact some in the Washington leftocracy might even welcome Landrieu’s demise as purifying the Democrats as she would be one less “fossil fuel” apologist in the caucus.

In the past, Team Landrieu always found a silver bullet to take down her Republican opponent: in 1996, they argued incessantly that Woody Jenkins was too extreme for Louisiana; in 2002 against Terrell it was sugar; and in 2008, they labeled Kennedy as confused.

Cassidy is a far more self-confident and self-disciplined candidate than the last three Republicans Landrieu faced.  And having John Breaux and others keep whispering that Cassidy is “weird” isn’t going to do the job.

So where does Mary Landrieu go from here?

Probably home unless she can pull off her greatest electoral escape yet.

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