- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Louisiana voters could send incoming Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle another powerful message and make history at the polls Dec. 7 by electing Suzanne Haik Terrell their state's first Republican senator in more than a century.

The incumbent, freshman Democrat Mary Landrieu, won a cliffhanger election six years ago over conservative Republican stalwart Woody Jenkins by roughly 6,000 votes out of 1.7 million cast. She may not be as fortunate this time. Under the Bayou State's unusual voting system, candidates must win more than 50 percent of the vote on election day or face a runoff against the second-place finisher. Since Mrs. Landrieu won just 46 percent of the vote Nov. 5 (three Republican challengers received slightly more than 50 percent, another Democrat 2 percent), she has been forced into a runoff against the Mrs. Terrell, the state elections commissioner.

Mrs. Landrieu has plenty of reasons to be worried about her political future. For months, her poll numbers have remained below 50 percent. Thanks to the Republicans' surprisingly strong showing in Senate races, Mrs. Landrieu now knows that, even if she wins next month, she'll return to the Senate as a member of Mr. Daschle's Democratic minority.

That is the best-case scenario for Mrs. Landrieu, who faces a difficult struggle to retain her seat. Although Mrs. Landrieu is running as a moderate Democrat who votes with President Bush nearly 75 percent of the time, Republicans are pouring resources into the state to defeat her, and Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will campaign for Mrs. Terrell in Louisiana. Republicans appear to have defused their most serious intra-party problem (in this case, a bitter policy dispute between Republican Gov. Mike Foster and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige over the state's implementation of federal regulations) with the governor's endorsement of Mrs. Terrell's Senate candidacy.

The same cannot be said for the Democrats. For one thing, it's much more difficult to motivate their staunchest supporters (in this case, black voters) to go to the polls knowing that control of the Senate has already been decided. Secondly, Mrs. Landrieu's campaign is in disarray. Two days after failing to get enough votes to avoid a runoff, the senator purged media consultant Raymond Strother, campaign manager Donna Simmons and field coordinator Ellen Bogard.

Worse still, she has been embroiled in bitter feuding with prominent black politicians over personal and ideological matters. State Sen. Cleo Fields, a prominent and controversial lawmaker, has indicated that he might not endorse Mrs. Landrieu. Mr. Fields has indicated that, in his view, white Democrats like Mrs. Landrieu take blacks for granted. Also, in 1995, Mrs. Landrieu refused to endorse Mr. Fields' unsuccessful gubernatorial race against Mr. Foster, a Republican.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Landrieu, the best way to energize the black electorate is by running more to the left, a posture which will further alienate the state's moderate-conservative mainstream voters. During this campaign, Mrs. Landrieu has been touting her support for Mr. Bush's 2001 tax cuts. She is under heavy fire for voting with Mr. Daschle and against Mr. Bush over the Department of Homeland Security. (She received upwards of $40,000 from public-sector unions during the 2002 election cycle.) The National Taxpayers Union has denounced Mrs. Landrieu as a big spender and endorsed Mrs. Terrell, and the incumbent is under fire for supporting clean needles for drug addicts in the District of Columbia.

Although Mrs. Landrieu seeks to portray herself as a moderate like the state's senior senator, John Breaux, this assertion is belied by ratings from liberal interest groups like the NAACP, where she scored 27 points higher than Mr. Breaux in their latest ratings, and groups like the American Conservative Union, which routinely give Mr. Breaux scores that are 10 or more points higher than Mrs. Landrieu's.

In short, while Mrs. Landrieu is not a liberal by national Democratic standards, she is to the left of the Louisiana electorate. A few strategically timed visits from Mr. Bush could very easily make her a one-term senator.

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