For Democratic candidates in Deep South and Border States, carrying President Barack Obama on their backs is a bone-breaking load that may very well end their political careers.
There is no better example of that than the multi-talented U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu who has every right to feel exhausted from carrying the weight of the unpopular President every day, every hour and every minute. But Landrieu isn’t alone. In Arkansas, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor is also staggering under the Obama load. And, in a border state like Kentucky, Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes would surely defeat Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell if it were not for the Obama load that threatens to sink her in a race so close that the winning margin may well be one percent or less. In Mississippi, Democrat Travis Childers is so far behind Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran that the race could well be considered over and settled.
In 2008 and 2012 while sweeping the nation and becoming a two-term President, Obama struggled to get 20 percent of the white vote in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Some might say, “Well, these are Southern states and Obama is the first African-American President. What would you expect white Southerners to do except vote against a Black candidate?”
But Allan and Danae think it’s more complicated than that. After all, millions of white voters across the nation voted for Obama twice. Without their support he could not have won the White House. We think that if Obama were a more competent or successful President, he could get white votes even in the Deepest South. And, if he were viewed as competent he would not be so heavy a load to carry for Landrieu, Pryor, Grimes and Childers. We certainly don’t deny the existence of racism in America and that certainly has an impact on how Obama is viewed. But, we think that even in the Deep South, candidates like Ray Nagin got white votes at a time when he was viewed as a businessman reformer. Historically in New Orleans, former Mayor Sidney John Barthelemy got white votes in races for the State Senate, the City Council and Mayor. Even the often-intransigent Dutch Morial once got more than 20 percent of the white vote in a citywide race against a white opponent.
We think that the Landrieu race is headed for a Dec. 6 runoff against U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. But President Obama won’t be any more popular in Louisiana in December than he will be in November. If Senator Landrieu pulls out a victory in this race, even her political enemies will have to credit her with a miracle win.
Even former President Bill Clinton may not be able to save his fellow Southern Democrats.
“Republicans want you to make this a protest vote,” former President Bill Clinton told voters in Arkansas this week as he campaigned for Democratic candidates there. The “Super Pacs” have no (real) investment in your lives,” he continued.
Until last month, the Democrats have outraised Republicans each month in funding for Senate campaigns. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, the NRSC collected a record-setting $15.5 million in September which will be trickling down to more Republican influenced tv spots, direct mail and door knocking in Louisiana. A strong dislike for President Obama, who has sidelined himself and his otherwise popular wife, is clearly driving the electorate toward Republican and Tea Party candidates.
A new poll released this week by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that voters overall see a hard road ahead for themselves and their families. Record low turnouts in primary elections foretell a big drop in turnout next month, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
Losing control of the U.S. Senate might not be all that bad for President Obama. An era of equally divided power between the two parties could yield more legislative achievements, which has been the case in other such times. When power is evenly split, politicians have no choice but to compromise, temper their personal preferences and worry less about always keeping their ideological bases happy.
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 television 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 council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.