- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Republicans appear closer to forcing Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, into a runoff election, but division over abortion among state Republicans threatens the party's hope of recapturing the Senate.

A July 29-30 poll paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows that Mrs. Landrieu would get 46 percent of the vote in a Nov. 5 open primary and under Louisiana's unique election process would have to face a two-candidate runoff Dec. 7 against a Republican.

Social conservatives in the state, however, say they will sit on their hands unless their favored pro-life Republican, state Rep. Tony Perkins, gets into that runoff. These social conservatives oppose Mr. Perkins' two rivals: Rep. John Cooksey and state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, a former New Orleans City Council member.

National Republican leaders have helped raise money for Mrs. Terrell and, although they say their minds are open, they may soon decide to give her a major financial boost in the form of "coordinated expenditures" if they remain convinced that she has the best shot against Mrs. Landrieu.

But social conservatives say Mrs. Terrell is a pro-choice moderate who jumped to the pro-life side only recently.

"Suzy Terrell has no pro-life history so far as I can discover," said Louisiana Eagle Forum Chairman Sandy McDade. "She was pro-choice when she was on the City Council."

"If Terrell makes the runoff, it will be very hard to get social conservatives excited about voting for her," Mrs. McDade warned.

Nor is Mr. Cooksey likely to bring out religious conservatives. "Cooksey has always been fairly hostile toward social conservatives," Mrs. McDade said.

Mrs. Terrell, meanwhile, insists she is not what her detractors say.

"Because a conservative pro-life woman who can win an election is a hard commodity to find, people try to cloud issues," Mrs. Terrell said in an interview. "But I am pro-life and have been forever. It's disingenuous for people to say I'm not."

Mr. Perkins is just as insistent that the national party would commit folly in backing Mrs. Terrell.

"Our first task is to turn out social conservatives so Landrieu doesn't get 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 5," Mr. Perkins said. "Our second task is to make sure the second place candidate on Nov. 5 can bring out the social conservatives in the runoff."

Mrs. Terrell, who was state co-chairman of President Bush's 2000 campaign, thinks her detractors are rewriting recent history for their own purposes.

"Tony Perkins urged me to get into the race in February, before he even thought of getting into it himself," Mrs. Terrell said. "And Sandy McDade urged me to run last year. I hope Sandy and Tony will be with me when I win the runoff because we are fighting for the soul of this country."

Her fellow Republicans, meanwhile, are only now awakening to the possibility that Louisiana may be crucial for Republican hopes of retaking the Senate, which Democrats control by one seat.

"If the November 5 elections produce no net gain for Democrats or Republicans and only the Louisiana contest remains undecided, it would be the biggest story since the Florida recount," said Terrell campaign strategist Verne Kennedy.

"President Bush, national Republicans and the national press corps would move their residences to Louisiana from November 6 through December 7," he said.

That would mean, said Terrell media consultant Alex Castellanos, that "what Florida was in the presidential campaign, Louisiana could be for control of the U.S. Senate."

Landrieu campaign spokesman Rich Masters said, "We don't anticipate a runoff, and it's our intention to win on November 5."

Republican ads say Mrs. Landrieu has voted for 120 tax increases. "Untrue," Mr. Masters said. "She's voted for eight tax increases."

"This race is going to hinge on who voters see as the most independent candidate, and Mrs. Landrieu voted with President Bush 74 percent of the time," he said.

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