Monday, August 18, 2008

Louisiana U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Louisiana U.S. Senate

August 18, 2008
78 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

Putting the Joe Lieberman situation in Connecticut aside, the Senate contest in Louisiana appears to be the only legitimate opportunity for Republicans to gain a seat currently held by Democrats. I am going out on a limb here, as polls currently show the Democrat incumbent would win a close race for reelection, but I will say that this is a tossup race in a very politically unpredictable state and that for a variety of reasons I will outline, the Republican may win this seat.

Democrat Mary Landrieu has survived two very difficult elections to the U.S. Senate. Her initial victory came in 1996 amid charges of irregular voter activity that aided her election and after the first round of voting under Louisiana's unique election system, it looked like she was headed for a defeat for reelection in a 2002 runoff. Instead, perhaps because the voters wanted to be contrary to what had been a strong election for Republicans a month earlier, she hung on and survived. In 2006 though, Louisiana federal election laws have been changed and she will now face a far more traditional contest for a third term. The state also might be somewhat tougher for Democrats than she has had to deal with before, due to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the displacement of a lot of African-Americans to other states.

Republicans in the Pelican State were greatly buyoed by last year's election of Bobby Jindal as the state's new Governor. Considered one of the rising political stars in the nation, polls showed that before he was even elected Governor, Jindal would have been in position to easily unseat Landrieu in 2008. In that regard, Landrieu was probably quite pleased to see him elected Governor and out of contention for her seat. Over a period of a few months, other prominent Republicans took themselves out of a potential Senate race and many speculated that the incumbent could be given a real break. The White House and former official Karl Rove though were apparently putting pressure all the while on Democrat State Treasuer John Kennedy to switch parties and jump in the race against Landrieu. After a lengthy period of speculation, that eventually happened and now Kennedy is the GOP standard-bearer. In many ways, the situation is pretty unusual and speaks to the fact that political parties, as institutions, are weaker in Louisiana than any other stater, and thus surprising party switches are not unheard of.

Kennedy had actually sought election to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and was one of three major Democrats in the field. He even ran somewhat to the left of the party establishment's preferred candidate and he failed to make the runoff. Democrats claim that this history speaks poorly to his ability to run successfully against Landrieu but it is worth remembering, that besides the fact that he has been elected and reelected statewide before, his 2004 Senate total, combined with that of the then Republican candidate David Vitter, who would go on to become the first Republican U.S. Senator to ever be elected from the state, would have been more than enough to win. Obviously, Kennedy is not going to keep many of those Democrat votes against Landrieu, but he does have the benefit of name recognition and popularity among many of them who had voted for him before.

While never an extreme left-winger, Kennedy is probably going to have to move at least a little to the right in order to earn the trust of conservatives. Landrieu, while a prolific fundraiser and proven political fighter is also seen as a divisive figure and there will be motivation to defeat her among many in the state. A few polls here and there have even shown Kennedy with a bit of a lead over the incumbent, some earlier ones have shown Landrieu with a very large lead, but the most reliable and most recent ones all seem to show Landrieu with a now smaller lead of about five points, and just slightly below the 5o percent mark.

The GOP should easily take Louisiana in the Presidential race, and the popularity of Governor Jindal could potentially help Kennedy a great deal as well, but if he is to win, it will primarily be due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the way the political landscape may have changed. Landrieu will certainly try to use the event to her advantage as well, pointing out how her seniority and status in the majority party are best equipped to bring home federal money for relief efforts, but in what is now a more sparsely populated states, enough Democrats and lower income voters from her base may now be absent.

This one could easily go either way, but it would be pretty rare for a party to not gain a single Senate seat at all, much less two cycles in a row. Therefore, I would put very slight odds on the Senate rollcall featuring a Republican Senator Kennedy, for the first time.

Kennedy campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 5 D, 7 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 44 D, 33 R


At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

where is your Rasmussen poll where Landrieu is over 50% and Kennedy is under 40%. With leaners, Landrieu is at 56% and Kennedy is still under 40%?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Corey said...

I wrote this up before yesterday's Rasmussen poll.

Not a great poll for Republicans, but Landrieu has been greatly outspending Kennedy on tv, and he has just gone on the air.

So, we will have to keep an eye on this race to see if it might remain a potential tossup.


Post a Comment

<< Home