- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

BATON ROUGE, La. The hopes of President Bush and national Republicans to capture Sen. Mary L. Landrieu's Senate seat in Louisiana this fall have diminished, if not evaporated.
The reason: Louisiana Republicans.
Four hours before Friday's filing deadline, Republican Gov. Mike Foster, who had been courted by Mr. Bush to challenge Mrs. Landrieu, announced he wasn't interested and endorsed Rep. John Cooksey of Monroe, one of three Republicans who have filed to face Mrs. Landrieu in the Nov. 5 open primary.
The other Republicans are state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell and state Rep. Tony Perkins of Pride. Five lesser-known candidates, including one Democrat, filed by Friday.
Mr. Cooksey, a member of the House International Relations Committee, garnered national notoriety after the September 11 terrorist attacks by remarking that "anyone with a diaper on his head" should be considered a terrorism suspect. He later apologized.
Several disinterested analysts suggest the fragmented Republican field all but assures Mrs. Landrieu of re-election, perhaps without the need for a Dec. 7 runoff. None of the three Republican candidates has the kind of statewide recognition that Mr. Foster would have brought to the race.
"One of the reasons Bush and the national Republicans wanted Foster to run was so they wouldn't have to worry about Cooksey and the public relations problem with the 'diaper on the head' remark," said pollster Ed Renwick, of Loyola University in New Orleans.
He said that Mrs. Landrieu now "is not particularly vulnerable" because of the fragmented Republican field. "She has a decent shot at avoiding a runoff," he said.
Even while endorsing Mr. Cooksey at the governor's mansion Friday, Mr. Foster a popular two-term governor who is barred by term limits from re-election next year acknowledged that the Republican congressman says "certain things he shouldn't say. We all do it."
But he extolled Mr. Cooksey as "my kind of guy" and said he is "honest and real."
Mrs. Landrieu, meanwhile, has her own political liabilities. Her voting record is perceived as too liberal by many voters in this conservative state, and she has a strained relationship with blacks who make up 27 percent of Louisiana's voters. She won the 1996 runoff by only 5,200 votes.
Fighting the liberal label, Mrs. Landrieu's television ads boast that she "voted with President Bush 74 percent of the time" and call her a "conservative Democrat."
Mrs. Landrieu's problems with the black community stem from the contentious 1995 governor's race. In that election, Rep. Cleo Fields, a black Democrat elected to Congress in 1992, narrowly edged her out of the runoff spot to face Mr. Foster. Blacks accused Mrs. Landrieu of playing the race card against Mr. Fields.
Mr. Fields, now a state senator, briefly considered entering the Senate race against Mrs. Landrieu but then became mired in a bribery scandal.
Another black Democratic state senator, Donald Cravins of St. Landry Parish, said he also considered entering the race but decided it was too late. He publicly announced he would support Mr. Foster if he entered the race, but has not indicated who he will support now.
"It has nothing to do with me being an African-American," he said of his opposition to Mrs. Landrieu. "I helped her overcome some resentment in the African-American community. We elected Mary Landrieu six years ago by beating the bushes, and it was a difficult job. And we haven't heard from her in six years."
Mr. Cravins said Mrs. Landrieu's ad campaign is a "horrible strategy. What she should be saying is she votes her convictions. I can't think of anyone in Louisiana who has ever thought of Mary as a conservative."
Meanwhile, the race to succeed Mr. Cooksey in the 5th District, which encompasses 22 of Louisiana's 64 parishes, may prove pivotal for Democratic hopes of recapturing the House.
Among the seven candidates who filed for the seat are former Rep. Clyde Holloway and state Sen. Robert Barham, both Republicans, and Democratic state Rep. Rodney Alexander. A majority of the registered voters in the district are Democrats.
Under Louisiana's unique open primary, all candidates for an office, regardless of party affiliation, appear together on the same ballot. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote Nov. 5, the top two vote-getters face each other in the Dec. 7 runoff.

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