- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

Two new polls showing Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana with less than 50 percent support are giving Republicans reason to hope for a runoff in a race once considered safe for Democrats.

Mrs. Landrieu, a freshman who won her first race by less than 6,000 votes, garnered 45 percent and 44 percent in surveys released this week. According to Louisiana's unique election system, she would need 50 percent plus one vote on Nov. 5 to avoid a runoff in December against the second-place candidate.

That opponent would most likely be state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, a Republican who garnered 20 percent in one of the surveys. Republican Rep. John Cooksey is third in the polls. The other Republican challenger in the race is state Rep. Tony Perkins.

"All of the recent polls are showing Mary Landrieu strongly below 50 percent," said Terrell spokesman Christopher Tidmore. "A runoff is a near certainty at this point."

Landrieu campaign spokesman Rich Masters said Republican thoughts of a runoff are irrational because at least one-quarter of the undecided voters will side with Mrs. Landrieu and put her over 50 percent.

"It's their Hail Mary throw," Mr. Masters said of a runoff. "Hail Mary passes work about 10 percent of the time."

But he conceded the Landrieu camp still has work to do, and that Democrats are at least preparing for the possibility of a runoff.

"We're just going to bust our you-know-whats and get over the hump," Mr. Masters said. "If not, we're prepared to go at it the very next morning [after Election Day]. We've considered it for months."

Among the factors that Republicans believe favor a runoff is the possibility of light voter turnout in New Orleans, where District Attorney candidate Eddie Jordan appears to be pulling away from his opponent. Analysts have felt that a competitive race between Mr. Jordan, who is black, and opponent Dale Atkins, who also is black, would generate high Democratic turnout in the city to the benefit of Mrs. Landrieu.

"Landrieu was counting on that race to motivate her electorate," said a Republican operative. "We're estimating the black turnout is going to be relatively low."

Mr. Masters said Mrs. Landrieu enjoys strong support from black voters, and that Republicans are not making inroads into her Democratic base.

"They've got to get independents and white, moderate Democrats," Mr. Masters said. "And they're not peeling any of our moderate Democrats and independents away. We're strong as moose meat with those folks."

He said the latest polling that show Mrs. Landrieu unable to crack 50 percent "gives everyone a sense of urgency."

"It's probably good that we have a sense of urgency about the campaign so that no one thinks that she's going to win in a walk," Mr. Masters said. "It will help with turnout.

"We've been outspent 2-to-1 on television," he said. "They put together these three candidates to try to nitpick at her like little gnats, to pull her below 50 percent. That was their strategy, and that's barely working after $3 million of trash TV. Not only is she still standing, she's poised to win this."

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