Snatching Victory From the Jaws of Defeat
By Jeff Crouere
A few nights ago,
internal Landrieu polls showed the incumbent Senator 5 % points behind her
Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell.
Popular Republican President George W. Bush had just left
raising a bundle of money for Terrell and instilling the GOP grassroots with
much needed enthusiasm. At that
point, the Landrieu camp knew they needed to fight back and the issue they used
turned out to be quite powerful—SUGAR.
In many areas of
, the citizens live in rural and poor conditions, with an economy still heavily
dependent on the agriculture industry. One
such area is called Acadiana, in the southwestern part of the state, the swing
section in almost all elections.
is more conservative, the
area is more liberal and Acadiana swings back and forth depending on the
election. Sugar cane farming is huge
in the southwest section of
and Landrieu raised the ugly specter of a “secret deal” between
to dump over 1 billion pounds of Mexican sugar into our country, thereby
devastating our 27,000 sugar cane farmers. Even
though the White House denied any such deal had been made, Landrieu cited a
report in a Mexican newspaper and hammered Terrell on the issue.
The White House and Terrell campaign denials were ineffective and the
surge placed the incumbent in office for another six years.
Now the national
and state Republican Party must deal with a golden opportunity that slipped
away. Here are a few more reasons
why it happened:
This is not Georgia.
The RNC and operatives like Ralph Reed descended on
and tried to replay the recent Georgia U.S. Senate election, in which Saxby
Chambliss defeated incumbent Max Cleland. The
decision was a strategic error since
is different from
, poorer and more dependent on the government for assistance.
Also, with the current demographics of
, having a high concentration of poor white voters and African-American voters,
the state leans much more heavily to the Democratic Party.
Loves Local Personalities Best.
Landrieu ended her campaign with a victory rally at the New Orleans
Municipal Auditorium with local leaders from around the state.
She had an impressive line-up of elected officials, led by the
Mayor Ray Nagin and Republican Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon.
In contrast, Terrell surrounded herself with all of the national
Republican leadership such as President George W. Bush, Former President Bush,
Vice President Cheney, White House Adviser Karen Hughes, Senate Majority Leader
Trent Lott and Congressman J.C. Watts. Landrieu
had all of the unpopular national Democratic leaders like Al Gore and Tom
Daschle stay away. She also asked
controversial former President Bill Clinton to stay away, even though her
campaign used him in recorded phone calls to African-American households.
Landrieu stressed that she placed
first and voters bought that message, assisted by her reliance on local
RNC Fails Again.
The last time the RNC tried to come into
and win an election was in 1986 when they took over the Henson Moore U.S.
was a solid bet to beat then Congressman John Breaux, but an effort to purge
the voter rolls backfired, energizing the African-American Democratic base and
Breaux won handily. This time, the
large influx of Republican leaders surely energized not only the Republican
faithful, but also the African-American base for Landrieu
Backed Landrieu Strongly. She
put the coalition together to win in this crucial area, the foundation of her
re-election bid. Key for Landrieu
was winning over a reluctant State Senator Cleo Fields to help her in the
area. In addition, Rev. Jesse
Jackson visited the state and former Mayor of New Orleans Marc Morial took an
active roll in the
area. Turnout was strong in
at 44%, whereas statewide turnout was only 43%.
At least from this view, there did not seem to be much of a differential
between white and black voter turnout, one of the keys for Landrieu to win.
Follies. Governor Mike Foster
was a non-entity in the Terrell campaign. He
only half-heartedly endorsed her and was not seen on commercials or many Terrell
events. He was critical of her
“negative” campaign in the primary election and the attacks on Landrieu’s
He also spoke favorably of the
Democratic challenger, State Representative Rodney Alexander, who ran in John
Cooksey’s old Congressional district, probably helping Alexander squeak out a
victory. Foster has done nothing but
harm the Republican Party politically, but his economic policies have harmed
them even more. With Foster’s lame
stewardship of the state’s economy, tens of thousands of
residents have had to leave the state in search of jobs and opportunities.
Those leaving are primarily Republicans—college graduates, business
owners, executives, leaving the state with more poor residents who cannot afford
to leave and who historically vote Democratic.
In 1996, Mary Landrieu defeated super conservative State Representative
Woody Jenkins by only 5,718 votes. Six
years later, she defeated more moderate Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell by
almost 40,000 votes. Many Republican
analysts believed the party could defeat Landrieu with a more mainstream
candidate, but they forget to factor in how much the voting demographics of
have changed in the past six years.
Lack of Republican Unity.
Terrell had to contend with a less than united Republican Party.
In addition to Republican Governor Foster’s weak endorsement,
Terrell’s primary challengers, State Representative Tony Perkins and
Congressman John Cooksey, only timidly endorsed her and were not seen on the
campaign trail on her behalf. In the
Congressional race, Republican candidate Lee Fletcher was hurt by the lack of
support from his vanquished Republican contenders, former Congressman Clyde
Holloway and State Senator Robert Barham. Finally,
Republican Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon was featured prominently in
Landrieu commercials, thereby helping the incumbent carry 45% of the vote in
Jefferson Parish, a pretty conservative parish.
This race shows that for Republicans to ever win more statewide offices, they
will have to be able to crack into the African-American vote which is now 30% of
the electorate of
. That base just gives a moderate
white candidate too much of a head start for any Republican to win.
The last four Republicans elected to statewide office—Dave Treen-Governor,
Fox McKeithen-Secretary of State, Mike Foster-Governor and Suzanne
Terrell-Elections Commissioner, all beat rather extreme candidates in the
run-off. Republicans tried to make the charge that Landrieu was a super-liberal,
but with a 74% pro-President Bush voting record, the voters didn’t believe the
accusation. Even worse for Republicans, a moderate white candidate that is
pro-life, like John Breaux is untouchable. When
he is up for re-election in two years, he will be a strong favorite and probably
will not be seriously challenged by a state Republican Party in disarray.
the future looks bright for the Landrieu family.
As Mary Landrieu returns to
her name will certainly be on the Vice Presidential lists for many of the
leading White House contenders. If
not, she seems secure in her Senate seat for many terms into the future, having
survived the Republicans best shot to defeat her.
Her brother, State Representative Mitch Landrieu, will also look at
higher office, most probably Attorney General next fall.
Now, Louisiana Republicans face the difficult chore next year of
replacing a Republican Governor. Their
best shot is to hope a Republican lands in a run-off against a liberal
African-American candidate, which is what happened to Mike Foster in 1995.
If that doesn’t happen, look for a moderate white Democrat to be the
next Governor of Louisiana, certainly a tough prospect for a Republican Party
that was riding so high only a few days ago to accept, but that is the reality
of politics in today’s
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