Five reasons Mary Landrieu lost
Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) luck ran out Saturday night.
The Democrat’s colleagues talk about her as a fighter who has won tough runoff elections in red Louisiana before, even if she was the underdog against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). But in 2014, a host of factors conspired to keep her from ultimately falling short for a fourth term.
Collapse among white voters
Landrieu’s support among black voters in Louisiana is nearly universal, but strategists in the state wondered if there were enough of them to counteract Cassidy’s huge lead among white voters.
There were not.
Landrieu’s percentage of the black vote was in the high 90s on Nov. 4, but Cassidy took more than 80 percent of the white vote.
Democrats, particularly those in the South, have suffered a complete collapse among white voters. Landrieu was the last white Democrat from the Deep South in the Senate, and none remain in the House.
Some have been critical of Democrats for abandoning the populist message that once resonated with blue-collar whites. That’s something they’ll have to fix if they hope to turn things around in 2016.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has started that conversation on the left, arguing that Democrats misallocated their resources passing the healthcare law when they had majorities in both chambers. They should have focused on the plights of the middle class after the economic meltdown, he argued.
Landrieu steamrolled into the lame duck session intent on passing a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline.
If it worked, it would put space between herself and an unpopular president, remind voters in the energy-rich state of her seniority on a key energy committee, and would be evidence she has the clout to pull together a Democratic coalition when it mattered most.
She fell one vote shy in an embarrassing defeat, while a version of the bill sponsored by Cassidy sailed through the House.
“A Keystone bill did pass one chamber of Congress, that was the Cassidy bill,” Cassidy said at a debate last week. “Sen. Landrieu could not get that passed in the Senate.”
Landrieu’s true last gasp was to call into question Cassidy’s character. In the final weeks of the race, she turned the entire focus of her campaign to allegations that Cassidy overbilled Louisiana State University.
“He’s going to be fighting more than President Obama,” Landrieu said at the debate. “If he gets elected, which I doubt, he will be fighting subpoenas because this is going to be under investigation.”
But Cassidy called the allegations “absolutely false” and effectively beat them back. Strategists in the state say it was too late for the controversy to take hold anyway.
Assault on the airwaves
This one wasn’t even close.
According to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, Republicans and outside conservative groups pummeled Landrieu on TV and the radio, while the Louisiana Democrat was effectively silenced during the runoff period.
The numbers are staggering – ads from outside groups attacking Landrieu at one point accounted for about 13,900 of the 14,000 TV spots that ran since the Nov. 4 jungle primary.
“I wish she had more air cover,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) told The Hill. “I was there [campaigning] because she’s my friend, but more importantly she’s done an extraordinary job for the people of Louisiana and you don’t abandon your friends when times get tough.”
It was a stark contrast from the run-up to the Nov. 4 election, when the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other liberal groups bet big, running about 19,000 TV ads.
But the Nov. 4 elections left many political watchers doubtful that Landrieu could survive another tough contest in the face of a Republican wave, and with the Senate majority no longer at stake, national Democrats and liberal groups opted to sit on their money.
Senate Democrats’ campaign arm announced early in the runoff period it wouldn’t spend on the race. The DSCC took out a $10 million loan in October, but spent big on races it ultimately lost on Election Day.
“The DSCC had no money, so it wasn’t that they pulled it,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told The Hill.
Senate Democrats interviewed by The Hill said they did what they could to help Landrieu with money, but the conservative outside groups smelled blood and went all in.
Landrieu’s campaign was also swamped by ads from the Cassidy campaign, which ran nearly 5,000 TV ads against Landrieu’s 3,000 during the runoff period. Cassidy had more spending flexibility by virtue of out-raising Landrieu by about $500,000 during the runoff.
Cassidy rallied conservatives early
Cassidy recognized early on that he needed to target those Republicans who supported Tea Party candidate Rob Maness in the general election. Maness took 14 percent and likely kept Cassidy from winning the jungle primary outright.
Democrats argued that those conservatives would stay home for the Dec. 6 runoff, but Maness embraced his one-time rival early in the period, and a snowball effect of Republican support ensued.
Conservatives like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party Express, who backed Maness in general election, became vocal proponents of Cassidy. Other Republicans who stayed out of the race during the general election, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), soon followed.
Paul headlined the first “unity rally” in Louisiana for Cassidy about a week after Election Day, which caught on and became must-attend events for party heavyweights.
In addition to Paul, Palin and Jindal, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), “Duck Dynasty”star Phil Robertson, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Dr. Ben Carson have all participated. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) all participated.
Democrats began turning out for Landrieu on the campaign trail after the Keystone gambit, but strategists say by then all the energy in the campaign was on Cassidy’s side.
Doomed from the start
The deck was deeply stacked against the Louisiana Democrat.
The midterm electorate is typically more favorable to Republicans, and voters were ready to take out their frustrations with President Obama on any Democrat that had the bad fortune of running in 2014.
The Republican wave earned the GOP their largest majority in the House in decades, and they easily picked up a convincing majority in the Senate.
Landrieu on Saturday joined her colleagues, Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), as Democratic incumbents who were washed out in the wave.
If Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) runs for governor, and Landrieu has the appetite for another campaign, she may find more favorable political winds in 2016.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.