Despite his sponsoring the House version of the Keystone a bill that died in the Senate Tuesday night, there is perhaps no bigger winner from the legislation’s defeat than Louisiana GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy.
And there is likely no bigger loser than the state’s Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Democrat who is on the defensive as she heads to a Dec. 6 runoff election against Cassidy.
Cassidy’s campaign was quick to seize on the bill’s defeat, which came up shy of passing by just one vote, as an example of Landrieu’s failed leadership.
"There is only joy in the fight for the middle class--and where I come from, we don't talk about quitting--we only go forward.” #KXL— Mary Landrieu (@MaryLandrieu) November 18, 2014
"Senator Mary Landrieu’s failure to pass the Keystone XL Pipeline this evening is a perfect snapshot of her time as chair of the Energy Committee; a failure,” Cassidy campaign spokesman John Cummins said in a statement sent soon after Tuesday night’s vote.
But even if the bill had passed, it was unclear how Landrieu, 58, would have translated a legislative victory into an electoral one. With the clock ticking down to the runoff, the embattled Democrat faces several major hurdles on the road to re-election:
1. Landrieu’s Other Republican Problem
In the general election earlier this month, Cassidy, 57, was already close on Landrieu’s heels, finishing with 41 percent of the total vote, compared with Landrieu’s 42 percent. A second Republican in the race, tea party-backed candidate Rob Maness, captured 14 percent of the vote and, in so doing, prevented both Landrieu and Cassidy from clearing the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff.
While Maness had no shortage of criticism for Cassidy in the general election, he has since moved to endorse his fellow Republican in the runoff and supported him in building a coalition of tea party support. Conservative stars such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have come to Cassidy’s side since he advanced to the runoff.
2. Democrats Are on the Run
While Cassidy has seen an outpouring of new Republican endorsements and support, Landrieu is waging a lonely battle as the national Democratic Party licks its wounds after a wave of defeats earlier this month. Perhaps the biggest blow came when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled back a previously reserved $2 million worth of television advertising from Louisiana after the general election.
3. #WhiteVoter Problems
Landrieu has a problem with white voters, who voted overwhelmingly Republican in Louisiana two weeks ago. She needs to get close to 30 percent of the white vote in order to win in next month’s runoff. But according to exit polls, she only captured 18 percent of that constituency Nov. 4. In 2008, by contrast, she won with 33 percent of the white vote.
Although Louisiana saw a record turnout of nonwhite voters in this year’s general election, of whom nearly 9 out 10 voted for Landrieu, that constituency is not enough to secure a victory for Landrieu without a complimenting segment of the white vote.
4. This Year Is Not Like the Others
Runoffs are hardly unchartered territory to Landrieu, who has won two out of three of her previous victories this way (one in 1996 and again in 2002). It’s a point her campaign emphasizes as Landrieu heads to her third. “She's done it before, and she'll do it again,” campaign manager Ryan Berni said in a memo sent to supporters earlier this month. “In 2002 in particular, Republicans had a big win, and President Bush was at his peak approval ratings, yet Mary still found a way to pull through.”
In some ways, 2002 was similar to 2014. Like this year’s midterms, the GOP enjoyed a wave of victories in 2002 and gained a new majority in the Senate at a time when then-President George W. Bush enjoyed broad popularity. But Landrieu managed a surprise win.
Before entering the 2002 runoff, she had run a campaign that emphasized her similarities to the then-popular Republican president. She rallied her base to the polls in December, after many of those voters had sat out the general election.
This year, however, the bigger problem is that her base is increasingly small because of changes in the Louisiana electorate since 2002. The state has grown increasingly red in the past 12 years and 19 percent of the Orleans Parish, which was pivotal in securing her 2002 victory, permanently relocated after Hurricane Katrina.