- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

Sen. Mary Landrieu's victory in Saturday's Louisiana runoff election is deeply disappointing to Republicans and will make it more difficult for President Bush to keep up the pressure on moderate Democrats (particularly those from Southern states) to vote with him instead of the Democratic Party on contentious issues like the recent homeland security bill. It is a sobering reminder that, despite the major deep inroads that the Republican Party has made in the South in recent decades a pattern which continued and even accelerated on Nov. 5 in states like Georgia it still has a way to go before it before it becomes the undisputed majority party throughout the South.
By every measure, Mrs. Landrieu's seat should have been ripe for a Republican pickup. While Louisiana, alone among the states of the old Confederacy, has never elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate, nearly everything else about the election seemed to bode well for the Republicans.
In 1996, Mrs. Landrieu won the barest of majorities, defeating her Republican opponent by roughly 6,000 votes out of 1.7 million cast. Last month, she won a disappointing 46 percent of the vote, forcing her into a runoff with Suzanne Terrell, a Republican who finished second. Moreover, Republican gains elsewhere in the country ensured that even if Mrs. Landrieu won the runoff, she would be relegated to minority party status in the Senate. Her bitter public feud with a prominent black Democrat, state Sen. Cleo Fields, seemed to make it unlikely that black turnout would be high enough to enable Mrs. Landrieu to keep her seat.
Adding to her problems, President Bush, who carried Louisiana two years ago and, if anything, had grown more popular since that time, put his personal prestige on the line by campaigning for Mrs. Terrell. While Mrs. Landrieu had the backing of the Bayou State's popular senior senator, John Breaux, she also had the burden of an overall voting record that was much more liberal than his, especially when it came to hot-button issues such as abortion.
So what happened? Part of the problem, no doubt, was that, in the late stages of the campaign, Mrs. Terrell got bogged down in bickering with Mrs. Landrieu over side issues, like which candidate could deliver more pork to the state and whether Mrs. Landrieu was on speaking terms with incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
But the lion's share of the credit goes to Mrs. Landrieu and Democrats like Mr. Breaux, who skillfully managed to devise a way to make her sound liberal enough to maximize black voter turnout but conservative enough to win support from white voters by portraying her as a moderate Democrat who supported President Bush a great deal of the time. So, for example, Mrs. Landrieu touted her vote for the president's 10-year tax-cut package (but refused to support making it permanent.) Although she had been, for the most part, a supporter of abortion rights, she emphasized her opposition to partial-birth abortion. Although she had repeatedly voted against Mr. Bush on the Homeland Security Department issue before the election, she changed her vote after Nov. 5, enabling it to pass the Senate. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson was brought in to broker a rapproachment between Mrs. Landrieu and Mr. Fields, and Messrs. Jackson and Fields did radio interviews on her behalf. And Mrs. Landrieu put Mrs. Terrell on the defensive by warning darkly of a secret deal by the administration to substantially increase sugar imports from Mexico.
In the end, all of this was enough to get the moderately liberal Mrs. Landrieu the 52 percent of the vote she needed to keep her Senate seat. Don't be surprised if the Democrats seek to replicate some version of this strategy on the national level two years from now.


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