Louisiana Runoff: Democrats Brace For Bayou Bust

PHOTO: Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., walks to the Senate floor for a vote, May 13, 2014. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., walks to the Senate floor for a vote, May 13, 2014.

Going, going, gone?

Louisiana’s runoff election on Saturday could mark the extinction of Democratic senators from the Deep South, with Sen. Mary Landrieu -- the last Southern Democrat still standing in the 2014 cycle -- expected to lose her seat of 18 years to the Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy.

PHOTO: Louisiana Republican Senate candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., addresses supporters during his election night watch party in Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 4, 2014. Gerald Herbert / AP Photo
Louisiana Republican Senate candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., addresses supporters during his election night watch party in Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 4, 2014.

In addition to settling the last unresolved Senate race of 2014, the Louisiana runoff election will also determine the outcome of two of the last three outstanding House races. (The Second Congressional District in Arizona is the only other unresolved House race outside of Louisiana.)

Here’s a preview of what’s at play in the three races:

Senate

The Senate race will be the main attraction of the night, as we wait to see whether Landrieu can retain her title as a political survivor or if Cassidy will become seat number 54 for Republicans in the next Senate class.

Having won two of her three previous elections through runoffs, Landrieu’s campaign continues to express optimism that she can pull out another surprise victory this year.

The last time Landrieu faced a runoff in 2002, she was widely expected to lose the contest. But in the final days of the campaign, a late-breaking story fueled rumors that the Bush administration was considering increasing sugar imports from Mexico, a policy change that would have had damaging repercussions for Louisiana’s sugar industry. The story helped to shift the momentum of the race. This year, Landrieu’s campaign is looking to a late-breaking story alleging that Cassidy may have been paid for work he didn't do as a part-time professor at LSU as a possible equivalent of the 2002 sugar story.

Whether or not the new allegations against Cassidy will register at the polls remains to be seen, but regardless, the facts on the ground in 2014 paint a very difficult, if not impossible, road to victory for Landrieu.

The voters

Over the last decade, Louisiana’s electorate has grown increasingly conservative. While Landrieu enjoys a loyal base of support among African Americans, most of the state’s white population now votes with the Republican Party. On Nov. 4, as a case in point, Landrieu captured 94 percent of the black vote compared to just 18 percent of the white vote.

Even if Saturday’s election sees a strong turnout of African Americans, it will be hard for Landrieu to capture victory without a corresponding segment of the white vote. Most experts say Landrieu needs close to 30 percent of the white vote to clinch a win, but she fell 12 percentage points short of 30 last month.

And as far as the early voting numbers are an indication of what we’ll see on Saturday, the runoff electorate looks to be increasingly white and Republican. Compared to November, early voting was down in all categories except for white and Republican voters, which saw a boost in participation.

The blunders

There have been some serious strategic blunders on the part of Landrieu’s campaign and national Democrats that have put Landrieu in a particularly vulnerable position.

Part of the problem is that Landrieu’s campaign banked on a strategy of an outright win on Nov. 4. And when that strategy flopped, with Landrieu finishing the night with 42 percent of the total vote (only 16,000 votes ahead of Cassidy) and a far cry from the 50 percent plus 1 that would have been necessary for an outright victory, she found herself with a depleted war chest headed into the runoff.

National Democrats could have come to Landrieu’s rescue, by cutting checks and flying in extra hands to bolster her ground game, but they instead “walked away from this race,” as Landrieu herself said earlier this week.

The numbers

Following a bruising wave of defeats across the country in November’s election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made the decision to withdraw a previously reserved $2 million in funds from Landrieu’s runoff. While the DSCC indicated at the time that they would continue to stay involved in the race, the committee has spent exactly $0 to help Landrieu during the runoff, according to Federal Election Commission records. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, by contrast, has spent over $1.3 million to bolster Cassidy.

According to a statistic from The Center for Public Integrity, outside groups have aired fewer than 100 ads favoring Landrieu during the runoff, amounting to less than 1 percent of the 14,000 total runoff ads. Landrieu’s campaign has gotten on the air with 3,000 ads through Monday but that figure is outdone by the 5,000 ads from the Cassidy campaign.

And while Landrieu does have a few staunch Democratic supporters, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have held fundraisers to help fill Landrieu’s pockets in the final stretch of the election, Landrieu simply hasn’t been able to keep pace with Cassidy’s spending. The latest FEC report from Nov. 16 show her far behind Cassidy’s $1,296,282 with just $782,616 cash on hand.

5th Congressional District

Republican Ralph Abraham and Democrat Jamie Mayo go head-to-head to fill the seat of outgoing Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, who failed to win his bid for reelection after a one-year, scandal-ridden term in Congress.

Mayo, who has served as the mayor of Monroe since 2001, points to the city’s record budget surplus under his tenure as evidence of his qualifications for the job.

Abraham, a rural doctor who has never run for office before, touts the important endorsement of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal headed into the runoff.

McAllister was first elected to Congress just one year ago in a special election to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Alexander. But after the married congressman was caught on camera kissing a married staff member, who was not his wife, voters were not quick to forgive the freshman congressman.

6th Congressional District

Voters in Louisiana's 6th District will have the choice between voting for a convicted felon or a political newcomer when former Gov. Edwin Edwards faces off against Garrett Graves in Saturday's runoff. The two finalists are vying to fill the seat that Cassidy left to an open field by deciding to run for the Senate.

Graves, a Republican who spent six years working as Gov. Bobby Jindal's coastal adviser before making his bid for Congress this year, is favored to win the race in this deeply conservative district by a comfortable margin over Edwards.

Edwards, a Democrat, is a legendary character in Louisiana politics who served four terms as governor and was later convicted on racketeering charges, which landed him in prison for eight years. Along with his third wife Trina, who is 51 years his junior, Edwards is the subject of an A&E reality show called “The Governor's Wife.”