BATON ROUGE, La., September 6, 2014 — This year’s midterm elections are the best chance Republicans will have to take the Senate until 2018. Of 36 Senate seats being contested this year, 21 are held by Democrats, 15 by Republicans. If Republicans can pick up six seats, they will have a majority in the Senate.
If Republicans fail now, they will have almost no chance of taking the Senate in 2016, when they are expected to defend 24 of the 34 seats contested; 10 will be defended by Democrats. Republicans are more likely to lose seats than pick them up, especially if they lose the White House.
GOP chances to take the Senate improve considerably in 2018; Democrats are expected to have 23 seats up for election, along with two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats. Only eight Republican seats will be at risk.
But four years is an eternity in politics. Republicans want to take the Senate now. It is theirs to win, if they avoid the stumbles and poor candidates that plagued them in 2012.
One vulnerable Democrat in the Senate is Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.
Landrieu has been in the Senate since 1997 and is running for her third term. Her main challenger is Republican Bill Cassidy. They are nearly tied in the polls, with Cassidy currently leading Landrieu by 1.3 percent, according to Real Clear Politics, and 3 percent in a Rasmussen poll. Both polls show Cassidy’s lead within the margin of error, making the race a statistical dead heat.
Landrieu, daughter of former New Orleans mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Maurice “Moon” Landrieu and sister of current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, won election the first time with less than a 1 percent margin. She was reelected with 3 percent of the vote in 2002, and with 7 percent in 2008. But Louisiana has become more Republican since her first election, sending its first GOP senator to Washington, and she has come under increasing pressure.
Landrieu’s strong win in 2008 was also fueled by an unusually strong turnout by black voters, in response to the appearance of Barack Obama on the presidential ballot. Midterm elections typically have a much lower turnout, and a low turnout this November will almost certainly hurt Landrieu.
Landrieu is painted as out-of-touch with the people of Louisiana. The Washington Post reported that Landrieu doesn’t own a house in Louisiana, using her parents’ New Orleans home as her voting address. Landrieu claims that she considers the house, which she owns in trust with her siblings, her home, but neighbors claim they never see her there.
Landrieu and her husband built a $2.5 million house on Capitol Hill in Washington, and that house is clearly their primary residence. A Louisiana judge threw out a lawsuit this week that attempted to take Landrieu off the ballot for not meeting the residency requirement to represent Louisiana. However, her opposition is expected to hit hard on the fact that Landrieu doesn’t really live in the state, painting her as a creature of Washington who is seen by Louisianans only on TV, and who is more connected with Washington concerns than with Louisiana concerns.
That point has been underlined in an online ad created by American Crossroads. It highlights Landrieu’s push to get a $2 million earmark for Washington schools, then quotes a D.C. lobbyist who praises Landrieu for “making Capitol Hill a better place to live.” It also quotes D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who calls her “the senator representing the District of Columbia until we become the 51st state.”
Obamacare (Affordable Care Act, or ACA) is another sore spot in Landrieu’s relationship with Louisiana voters: 54 percent say they are less likely to vote for her because of it. Landrieu’s support was essential to passage of the ACA.
Landrieu’s first campaign ad of the current cycle attempted to put to rest criticism over the ACA. She stressed her support of legislation that would permit people to keep their existing healthcare insurance. In February her campaign said in a news release:
Sen. Landrieu has always said the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and supported numerous legislative measures to fix or improve it. When she learned that individuals who liked their health insurance could no longer keep it, despite the President’s promise, she wrote legislation to insure that the promise was kept. As a result, the President issued guidance allowing states and insurance companies to renew individual health plans for another year.
Now in Louisiana, tens of thousands of policyholders who might previously have experienced a potential insurance cancellation will be able to keep their plans.
Landrieu has attempted to shore up her local credentials by fighting against higher flood-insurance premiums, and opposing President Obama and other Democrats to support the Keystone XL pipeline. She is a solid friend of oil and gas interests in the state, and business often trumps politics. Oil patch Republicans are likely to support her.
Louisiana’s “jungle primary” system complicates any predictions about Landrieu’s fate in November. Multiple GOP and Democratic candidates could in principle go on the ballot in November, and until the beginning of this month, there were in fact three declared Democrats on the ballot, and four declared Republicans.
Since then, Paul Hollis has dropped out of the race. Former Governor Edwin Edwards had considered running, but decided to run for the House. There are typically members of third parties on the ballot, who might deny the frontrunner a majority of the votes in a tight race.
Until this summer, Landrieu had more support in the polls than any other candidate, but she failed to reach the 50 percent level of support that is required to win election in Louisiana. If neither Landrieu nor Cassidy breaks the 50 percent mark, then the two highest vote-getters, presumably Landrieu and Cassidy, will enter a runoff.
Mary Landrieu is in trouble. Obamacare will not kill her reelection bid, but it doesn’t help. More important will be the effects of voter turnout, the rise of GOP strength in the state, and whether voters perceive her as a Washingtonian rather than a Louisianan.
Republicans have a solid chance of winning Landrieu’s seat, and they need it if they are going to take control of the Senate, but they have almost no margin for error. If Bill Cassidy can stay on message and avoid even the hint of corruption, prostitutes, and drunk driving, he will be the likely victor in November.
EDITORS NOTE: Correction, Rob Maness has not dropped out of the Louisiana Senate Race. We regret the error.