After 18 years of defying political gravity, Mary Landrieu’s electoral world came crashing down losing badly to a candidate many Republicans considered weak and unelectable statewide. While the political wind and territory were unfavorable to Landrieu, she managed to stay afloat when previous red tides washed out her fellow southern Democratic colleagues. To simply say it was a decidedly red year in an increasingly red state would deny due credit to her Republican challenger and would absolve well-deserved blame for Landrieu’s missteps and a national party that crawfished on her candidacy.
An Eroded Base and A Bad Wave: There was a time when lining up the sheriffs and the courthouse gang was an essential ritual statewide candidates went through. However those days are long gone, as are some of the people who had delivered for Mary Landrieu. Many of the folks who were there for Landrieu’s first three elections are either no longer in office or in some cases no longer alive. The good old boy network has been trumped by the nationalization of US Senate races around the country. Landrieu first won thanks to a combination of a high turnout driven by a presidential election and gambling, scratch that, gaming ballot initiatives. Landrieu was a beneficiary of Bill Clinton’s re-election bid (the last time a Democrat carried Louisiana for president) and the money casino and video poker interests spread around maximizing a favorable voter turnout. George W. Bush was president in her previous two re-election bids, dodging the crest of the November 2002 GOP wave thanks to the election being pushed into a December runoff and managing to get enough voters to split ticket in the 2008 presidential election by touting her role in securing post-Katrina recovery dollars. Though Barack Obama lost badly on that same ballot, Landrieu benefited from the large turnout by the party base. Being defiant to Bush proved more forgivable to the Louisiana electorate than being complicit in the enactment of the Obama agenda. Landrieu had received unflattering media coverage connected to the unseemly “Louisiana Purchase” bargain for her support for ObamaCare.
Et tu Schumer?: Landrieu got shived by her own party in financing and in the political theatre surrounding the Keystone Pipeline vote. The Democrats first cancelled a major advertisement buy in the runoff and then wrecked the heart of Landrieu’s campaign narrative of being an effective, influential senator when the Keystone Pipeline failed by a single vote. Obama didn’t help matters by signing his executive order granting de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, thus giving the Cassidy campaign a new cudgel to use against Landrieu. Apparently saving the last Democratic US Senator in the Deep South was not worth their money or their time.
Bloody Mary: Though she was blown out by double digits, only a few months ago Landrieu’s reelection appeared to be safe. In one of the most notable ads of the campaign, the scion of one of the Louisiana GOP’s founding fathers pleaded with voters to look beyond party to give Landrieu another term. Rather than touting what she delivered to Louisiana, a strategy that worked so well in 2008, Landrieu waged a scorched earth campaign against Cassidy that lowered her likability and barely singed her main Republican challenger. At the end, Landrieu came off as shrill and desperate.
Political Seppuku: Perhaps nothing hurt Landrieu more than comments she made to NBC’s Chuck Todd that the South was not always the friendliest place for blacks and women. It was the equivalent of dumping a can of gas on one’s head and it could be argued that those words served as an early concession speech. White voters in the state should have been especially galled as they had elected her to statewide office on five occasions (twice for state treasurer and three times for US Senator). That the South has elected two Republican non-white governors and has one of the nation’s two black US Senators were inconvenient contradictions.
Barack Obama: The 44th president proved to be a better asset to Cassidy than Landrieu. The former couldn’t stop talking about him while the Democratic incumbent used his name like it was a secret password.
She’s Got 97 Problems But His Speech Ain’t One: The Baton Rouge Republican received considerable criticism from some Republican Party figures for being too moderate, vanilla and charismatically challenged. To his credit, the gastroenterologist shrugged off such sniping and proved them wrong. No GOP candidate against Landrieu did a better job staying on message, particularly on the percentage of the time the Democratic incumbent voted with President Obama. I think Landrieu will be happy to never see the number 97 ever again.
The Teflon Candidate: The three previous Republicans who faced Landrieu had advantages that Cassidy did not possess. Woody Jenkins had an extensive grassroots network and strong appeal to the party base. Suzie Terrell had a centrist reputation and came right out of Landrieu’s base of New Orleans. John Kennedy was a scandal-free, popular elected official who had a knack for scoring earned media. Yet all three came up short. Though his “speechifying” was cruelly mocked in paid Landrieu advertising, Cassidy could not be framed negatively in a damning way that would stick. Landrieu was able to “fatally” define her opposition in her previous races. Jenkins was too extreme. Terrell could not be trusted to defend Louisiana’s interests, particularly on sugar. And Kennedy was one confused candidate. Team Landrieu’s attempt to do the same to Cassidy proved to be as futile as catching shadows in a butterfly net.
A United GOP: The biggest nail in the Landrieu coffin was the Republican Party’s rapid unification behind Cassidy after the primary. TEA Party candidate Rob Maness went with Cassidy relatively quick as did Governor Bobby Jindal, who had stayed out of the primary. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who had vociferously worked against Cassidy in the primary, had said he was unlikely to support Cassidy in the runoff but ended up walking back that comment. While the party rallying behind Cassidy seemed a no brainer, the Louisiana GOP has not always been in their right mind. Terrell’s 2002 campaign against Landrieu was undermined by the refusal of then-Governor Mike Foster and one of the GOP candidates in the primary to endorse her.
The Workhorse: Cassidy gave up a safe House seat and jumped into the US Senate only months after Obama was sworn in for a second term. He did everything that should be expected of a candidate, stumping across the state, conducting town hall meetings, building a large grassroots operation and raising money while exercising self-restraint by not spending funds too early to inflate sagging poll numbers.