- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

These are certainly difficult political times for Louisiana freshman Democratic junior Sen. Mary Landrieu, as she seeks to fend off a serious challenge from her Republican opponent, State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Terrell, in the Dec. 7 runoff. In sharp contrast to the state's senior senator fellow Democrat John Breaux, a 16-year Senate veteran who coasted to re-election in 1998 Mrs. Landrieu won by just 6,000 votes out of 1.7 million cast in the runoff two years earlier. And this year, Mrs. Landrieu finds herself in a difficult runoff once again. She's hoping that lavish support from interest groups like trial lawyers in particular will help put her over the top.
A large part of Mrs. Landrieu's political problem stems from the fact that she is more liberal than Mr. Breaux, whose latest American Conservative Union rating was 20 points higher. During this year's election, Mrs. Landrieu (ACU rating: 28), who is understandably wary of being portrayed as a liberal, has said she's a political moderate and supporter of President Bush. But, time and time again during the 107th Congress, she has voted against Mr. Bush and with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on key issues. For example, Mrs. Landrieu opposed the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. Last week, she voted against U.S. Court of Appeals nominee Dennis Shedd. In September and October, she repeatedly voted with Mr. Daschle and unions like the American Federation of Government Employees in their efforts to strip Mr. Bush of his authority to manage the new Department of Homeland Security. Following the Democrats' drubbing at the polls, Mrs. Landrieu reversed herself on homeland security and voted with the president.
Mrs. Landrieu has also found herself on both sides of the tax-cut issue. Last year, she was one of just 12 Democrats who voted for Mr. Bush's 10-year tax-cut plan. But this year (in sharp contrast to Mrs. Terrell, who wants to make the plan permanent), Mrs. Landrieu has refused to commit herself to doing so.
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Terrell has also been sharply critical of Mrs. Landrieu's close relationship with trial lawyers. During the current election cycle, Mrs. Landrieu has received more than $520,000 in contributions from lawyers and law firms, according to the web site opensecrets.org (oil and gas industries came in a distant second, with $227,900, and electric utilities finished third, with $177, 686). Why is Mrs. Landrieu so popular with lawyers? Part of it has to do with her voting record. For example, while the House voted overwhelmingly for medical liability reform in September, Mrs. Landrieu voted with Mr. Daschle and Senate Democrats to kill similar legislation in the Senate.
Mrs. Terrell has also been circulating a Wall Street Journal report that, in September, Mrs. Landrieu had agreed to participate in a television advertisement campaign by a group called Citizens for Asbestos Reform. But, just before the ads were about to air, the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association's newsletter suggested that they were a plot by business to deprive people of the right to sue. Mrs. Landrieu subsequently pulled out. From the trial lawyers' perspective, Mrs. Landrieu's re-election would seem to be a very worthwhile investment indeed.


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