The race for the United States Senate in Louisiana certainly seems like a boxing match. Republican challenger Suzie Terrell and Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu have repeatedly sparred over key issues, differing personalities, questionable statements and the thorny question of religion. In fact it got so bad that after one debate the candidates would not shake hands with each other and after another debate Landrieu told Terrell that it would be her last campaign, a statement that Terrell took to be a threat.
This campaign has been unusual in many respects. For one, Louisiana is having a first ever December U.S. Senate run-off election. The state has a very unique open primary election process in which all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run in the same “jungle” primary and the top two candidates run against each other in the general election. In the primary election, Louisiana Republicans magnificently employed a multiple candidate strategy to force Landrieu into a run-off. Terrell emerged as the sole opponent because she was the most aggressive in attacking Landrieu and because she was able to raise more Republican money, mostly from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Yet, after the run-off was set it became apparent that both candidates were having trouble securing their bases. Suzie Terrell had a very difficult time convincing Republican Governor Mike Foster to support her. He finally did come on board, but has been mostly a non-entity in her campaign. Her Republican opponents, State Representative Tony Perkins and Congressman John Cooksey half-heartedly endorsed her and have not been active in her campaign either. On Landrieu’s side, her base vote was in jeopardy because three prominent African-American State Senators were not on board and were openly critical of her job performance. Since that time, the most important of the three, State Senator Cleo Fields, endorsed Landrieu. Landrieu has also picked up support from the Reverend Jesse Jackson and will be counting on a strong African-American voter turnout to win.
In the last days of this incredible race, the two candidates seem to be in a dead heat. The latest poll, released by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research of Washington D.C., showed Landrieu ahead of Terrell 47-44%. Other polls showed Terrell ahead by a few percentage points. Regardless, it is close and both camps are working feverishly to maximize turnout in the last push for votes. Republicans are receiving get-out-the-vote (GOTV) telephone calls from Vice President Dick Cheney and African-American Democrats are receiving GOTV calls from former President Bill Clinton.
Terrell will be employing the non-stop, non-sleep campaign finale used by Bob Dole and Al Gore in their respective 1996 and 2000 presidential bids. Of course, she is hoping for better results. Terrell is strongly emphasizing her ringing endorsement from President Bush. His Tuesday campaign visit to Shreveport and New Orleans has been huge for Terrell fund raising, motivating the GOP faithful and the campaign’s final television advertising blitz. Almost immediately, commercials with Bush’s forceful pitch for Terrell were all over Louisiana . Terrell has substantial coattails to ride, the very popular President of the United States and she is trying to ride them into office. In addition, a Republican Party all-star cast has visited the state: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Congressman J.C. Watts to name a few. It is indicative of just how important the Republican Party views this race.
In contrast, Landrieu has asked the national Democratic leaders to stay away from Louisiana . Therefore, no Bill Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt or John Kerry has been in the state. Mary Landrieu is trying to employ a “local vs. national” strategy saying she will place Louisiana first and Terrell will be a rubber stamp for President Bush. Last night, Landrieu presented an impressive array of local elected officials on stage with her in a final victory rally at Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans . Landrieu has been blasting the Terrell campaign and the Bush administration for a supposedly secret deal to import Mexican sugar, thereby harming the 27,000 Louisiana sugar cane farmers. Landrieu states that the Mexican media has reported on a deal that would involve the U.S. importing 1 billion pounds of Mexican sugar. The White House and Terrell deny that any such deal has been made, yet Landrieu continues to hammer Terrell on that issue, claiming that the Republican candidate should have pressed the President on behalf of Louisiana ’s struggling sugar industry. Other Landrieu attacks about Terrell’s stewardship of the Elections Commission office seem to have faded in these final days and the main Landrieu focus is on the “secret sugar deal.”
The weather will be chilly on Saturday which will depress turnout slightly. Christmas shopping and hunting season will be a distraction for the thousands of voters in the state. Finally, the negative tone of the race may keep some undecided voters from the polls on Saturday. Nevertheless, experts still predict a turnout of between 40-45% on Saturday.
No Republican has represented the State of Louisiana since Reconstruction. Suzie Terrell could very well make history on Saturday. She clearly had the momentum earlier in the week with President Bush in town. Because of the fund raising boost from Bush and national Republicans, as well as spending by conservative special interest groups, Terrell also has the “cash on hand” advantage in these crucial final hours. Landrieu is trying to wrestle the momentum from her with the “Mexican Sugar” attack. Will this last minute attack be enough for her to retain her seat in the United States Senate? We will all know in a few short hours.