Jun 272013

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

Can “Landslide” Landrieu be lucky and win again?

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu has won three elections for the Senate without ever surpassing 52 percent of the vote. Every one of her races has been tough and close but she faces an ultimate political test this year in a state that each year turns more Republican. Landrieu is one of the Deep South’s last two Democrats in the U.S. Senate. But many think that Southern Democratic elected officials closely resemble dinosaurs at the end of their era, except for State Senator Karen Carter Peterson who chairs Louisiana’s Democratic Party.

Already in the field against Landrieu and working very hard is U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge who is clearly a capable candidate. But waiting in the wings is Gov. Bobby Jindal. Columnist John Maginnis thinks that Gov. Jindal will conclude that his last best chance to remain at the top levels of American politics is to jump into the race against Landrieu and win. That would make him Senator Jindal. But, if he does leap into the Senate race, what does Rep. Cassidy do? We speculate that the big Republican money people will clear Cassidy out of the race to give Jindal the best shot at beating Landrieu. Louisiana politics is never simple and it is logical to presume that both Jindal and Cassidy realize that in Sen. Landrieu they are taking on the equivalent of a full-grown momma gator who knows every inch of the swamp and is rightly famous for her sharp teeth.

While she has not said so, many in politics think that Landrieu would welcome Gov. Jindal into the race and wouldn’t mind if Cassidy stayed for the fight. From a tactical point of view, having two Republicans fighting each other to see who made it into the runoff against Landrieu would be in line with the Senator’s gift for getting gifts of good fortune that have caused some to call her “Lucky Landrieu.”

The daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and the sister of current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Mary Loretta Landrieu became a public figure at the age of 23 when she was elected to the State House of Representatives. In the late 1970s, a young, good-looking blonde lawmaker was a novelty at the Legislature and she was hazed unmercifully. But that which did not kill her only made her stronger. She served two terms in the House, won two terms as State Treasurer, narrowly lost in a governor’s race and then won the first of her close U.S. Senate races against Woody Jenkins.

To have a chance to win in 2013, Landrieu must mobilize the African-American community which has always given her maximum support along with the state’s remaining yellow-dog Democrats and Labor. But her real gift has been her ability to win over just enough moderate conservatives and Republicans like Joe Canizaro with whom she has personal ties to push her numbers just barely over 50 percent.

There are many Republican office holders throughout Louisiana who may not endorse Landrieu publicly but they will quietly work for her and vote for her. As one says, “I owe Mary. She takes my calls personally. Her staff is wonderful to me. Because of Mary and her team, we’ve gotten federal grants for our parish that we would never have gotten otherwise. How can I not be for her?”

To win, Sen. Landrieu, with the help of Mayor Landrieu, needs a tremendous turnout in New Orleans. The real battleground in Sen. Landrieu’s elections is conservative, Republican-oriented Jefferson Parish where one might expect Landrieu to be held to 20 percent of the vote. But, every time, she surprises everyone by getting 40 percent of the vote in Jefferson. Of course, this time, the question is whether she can do it again.

Another card yet to be played in the Senate race is that Landrieu is slated because of retirements to become the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If that were to come to be, she would indeed by “Lucky Landrieu.” Not since the days of J. Bennett Johnston has Louisiana had a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair. Political Analyst Clancy Dubos was quoted in Roll Call as saying that Landrieu in the Energy Committee chairmanship might very well be a game changer for those in the state’s power structure who care more about power than ideology.

In November, the entire nation will be watching Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race. At this moment, we can’t even be sure who the Republican challengers will be. But, as Roger Villere, Chair of the Louisiana Republican Party said recently on Louisiana Newsmaker, “I’ve been on the team opposing Mary Landrieu for the U.S. Senate three times and I’ve lost three times so I have a lot of respect for her. She’s a worthy foe. But I think we have the pieces and the resources in place to beat her this time. But, with Mary, you never want to count your chickens before they hatch.”

Sheriff Marlin Gusman unofficially kicked off his reelection campaign last Friday night when a large crowd of almost two hundred black and white decision makers came to Beverly McKenna’s Creole museum to hear Gusman speak about the benefits of new prison. Hosts included Sybil Morial and former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy. While the media continues to bash Gusman, many African-Americans are currently standing solidly behind him and want the Sheriff’s office to continue to be led by an African-American.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.

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