- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, is trying to shore up support among black voters, a key constituency in her December 7 re-election showdown with Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell.
Blacks are a powerful force in Louisiana's politics and Democratic Party, accounting for 30 percent of the state's voting-age population. As elsewhere in the nation, Louisiana's black voters are overwhelmingly Democrats; 92 percent voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election, according to exit polls.
Yet one black state legislator accuses Mrs. Landrieu of "taking black votes for granted," and black turnout in Louisiana's unique open primary Nov. 5 was less than what Democrats had hoped.
That was one reason Mrs. Landrieu failed to gain the majority vote she needed to avoid the December 7 runoff, her spokesman said.
"Deep down, I thought we would get enough of the black vote to avoid a runoff," Landrieu spokesman Rich Masters said in an interview. "We will have to do a better job of motivating the base vote African-Americans and labor."
Gore 2000 presidential campaign manager Donna Brazile agreed.
"The Landrieu campaign understands that one out of three of its voters would be black voters," said Miss Brazile, a Louisiana native who heads the Democrats' national Voting Rights Institute.
Mrs. Landrieu's problem on Nov. 5, Miss Brazile said, was that black turnout for Democrats was at the lower levels typical for midterm elections, while Republicans "turned out at presidential election-year levels" because of a strategy developed by White House chief political adviser Karl Rove.
"Our mistake in Louisiana and everywhere else was not having a constant theme that resonates with African-Americans job security," Mrs. Brazile said. "Our theme should have been: 'It's about your jobs.'"
Mrs. Landrieu's party controls both houses of the Louisiana Legislature by a roughly 2-1 margin, with black Democrats holding 22 of 105 seats in the state House and nine out of 39 state Senate seats.
While most elected black officials support Mrs. Landrieu, two of the three most prominent black lawmakers have denounced her, contributing to an appearance of black disunity that she can ill afford.
Democratic state Sen. Greg Tarver tells The Washington Times that he is so fed up with Mrs. Landrieu that he won't lift a finger to help her in the runoff.
"I am not going to support her or vote for her, but I'm not going to say anything horrible about her either I'm just going to tell the truth," Mr. Tarver said.
"Sometimes you get tired of white Democrats taking black votes for granted," Mr. Tarver said. "Her brother was a friend of mine. Her father had a great reputation for getting things done. But in her case, it looks like the fruit fell far from the tree."
State Sen. Don Cravins, another black Democrat, accused Mrs. Landrieu of trying "to out-Republican the Republicans."
"Her message [in the Nov. 5 election] was not about bread-and-butter economic issues but how she voted with President Bush 74 percent of the time," said Mr. Cravins. "Why vote for her when you can vote for a Republican who will vote with the president 100 percent of the time?"
Mrs. Landrieu has dismissed the claim that she ignores black concerns, pointing out that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave her a 91 percent favorable rating on her Senate votes for the first half of this year.
The most prominent black legislator in Louisiana, Democratic state Sen. Cleo Fields, on Tuesday dropped his opposition and endorsed Mrs. Landrieu for the runoff, thanks to the intercession of the black state Democratic Party chairman, Ben Jeffers.
Mr. Fields earlier complained that Mrs. Landrieu had supported Mr. Bush's agenda rather than issues important to blacks. "The blacks who go to the polls will vote for her," he said. "But, will they go? They are not motivated."
Mr. Jeffers insists the state Democratic Party is now more united. Mrs. Landrieu, who received 46 percent of the total vote on Nov. 5, "held her own in the black community, in one of the worst-weather days in recent [state] history," he said.
"Blacks make up 30 percent of voters in the state," Mr. Jeffers said. "If overall turnout [in the runoff] is 30 percent, she needs less than 40 percent black turnout. She needs a solid black vote of from 90 percent up. She got about 88 percent [on Nov. 5]."
But others say Mrs. Landrieu will have to do better than that.
"If Mary does not get out the black vote by 40 or 45 percent, she is going to lose," Mr. Tarver said. "She got only 32 percent [black turnout] on Nov. 5."
Mr. Tarver said he represents a district with 120,000 people, about 70 percent of whom are black. He said Mrs. Landrieu's campaign apparently ignored the black voters. "I saw only five Landrieu signs [outside homes] in the black community," he said.
"She'll lose," he said. "She lost 54 percent of the vote [on Nov. 5]. She doesn't know how to motivate [black] people."
But Mr. Masters, her spokesman, said, "I don't know what the magic number of blacks votes is" to win the runoff.
Mrs. Landrieu's critics claim she won't get the turnout she needs because she is arrogant toward blacks.
"I spoke with her about a week ago by phone," said Mr. Cravins. "Her attitude was almost pure arrogance. She said she was trying to broaden her campaign, and when I decide to help her, give her a call."
Mr. Cravins said he told her: "I will never call you again. I am looking for a way to help you, but it is not for me to go begging to let me help you."


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