Senate races

Landrieu in a hole after La. early voting

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Early voting didn’t bring good news for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) hopes of surviving her Dec. 6 runoff against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R).

{mosads}According to data released by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, the number of Republicans in the early voting period for the runoff increased from early voting ahead of the Nov. 4 jungle primary, while the number of Democrats fell by nearly 18 percent and the number of black voters also sharply decreased. GOP turnout was the only category of voters to see an increase, as overall early voting was down 10 percentage points.

“The turnout differential is now working against Landrieu because Republicans are headed to the polls even heavier than they did in the primary,” said Bernie Pinsonat, an independent pollster in the state. “If you’re looking for some layer of hope [for Landrieu] … there’s nothing out there.”

Nearly 106,000 Democrats cast their ballots early against about 86,000 Republicans. For Democrats, that’s a steep decline from the 129,000 who voted early ahead of the Nov. 4 election, while for Republicans, it’s an increase from 83,000.

Danny Ford, a Democratic strategist and former party official in the state, noted that the numbers might have been diminished because the holiday knocked off two early voting days for the runoff.

“But the GOP has been pounding this ground game and getting out the vote,” he said. “In past elections, they underestimated the ground game, but this time, they’re not taking anything for granted.”

A source close to the Landrieu campaign said that early voting totals should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s “an extremely small snapshot of the election.”

“With one more Saturday to vote, we are confident we will get our voters out,” the source said.

Landrieu has near universal support in the state from black voters, but their numbers fell by almost 19,000, while the number of white voters, who turned out in force for Cassidy during the jungle primary, only fell by about 5,000. 

“Even if she gets historic 2008 turnout among black voters, that may not be enough to offset her collapse among white voters,” admitted Bob Mann, a political analyst in the state. 

A Democratic official said there was a spike in black voters late in the week compared to earlier in the week, “which shows a good trend and our base voters coming out.” The source added that registration in the state among African-Americans is even higher than it was the last time President Obama was on the ticket.

Democrats can take solace in that they still outnumbered Republicans voting early by about 20,000, although many of those registered voters in the conservative-trending state likely voted GOP. But they had a much larger advantage during early voting period ahead of the jungle primary, when Landrieu edged Cassidy by only 1 percentage point. This time around, Cassidy won’t be splitting the Republican vote with Tea Party candidate Rob Maness, who took 14 percent in that race. 

Both candidates focused heavily on mobilizing voters to cast their ballots early. Cassidy voted Nov. 25 with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a potential Republican presidential candidate, at his side.

The Landrieu campaign held a number of early voting events with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), as well as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the head of the Democratic National Committee.

But Democrats had been talking big about how they intended to take advantage of the first three Saturdays of early voting, and that advantage has, at the very least, been neutralized.

Democrats also argued that the conservatives who favored Maness in the primary wouldn’t turn out for Cassidy in the general election, but the increase in early voting among Republicans voters appears to poke a hole in that argument. 

“That’s not to say she won’t have a good ground game on Election Day, but the drop off compared to last time is not hopeful,” Mann said.

It’s the latest obstacle for Landrieu, whose campaign has been hard up for good news during the runoff.

The incumbent’s high-stakes push to get the Senate to approve the Keystone XL pipeline during the lame duck failed by one vote. And national Democrats pulled their advertising commitment for the race early in the runoff period, leaving Landrieu massively outgunned on the airwaves.  

“The presence of Landrieu on TV and in the media has dropped off considerably since the primary,” Mann said. “She hasn’t had the money to compete like she did before. The Cassidy ads and third party groups are everywhere, and they’re still advertising. There seems to be a lot more energy on that side.” 

Landrieu raised $1.5 million ahead of their runoff, while Cassidy pulled in $2.1 million from Oct. 16-Nov. 16. Cassidy still has $1.3 million in the bank, while Landrieu is down to her last $800,000.

With this backdrop, the Landrieu campaign has focused on a burgeoning controversy, going all-in on allegations that Cassidy wrongly billed Louisiana State University while a member of Congress. 

Last week, some local Louisiana political blogs released 16 months of internal emails and school records that call into question whether Cassidy remained on payroll as a congressman while not contributing at the school, wrongly logged hours at LSU while he was in Washington, and whether he took advantage of his situation to maintain tenure when he didn’t meet the minimum requirements. 

The Landrieu campaign has been hammering Cassidy as a “fraud” and has accused him of lying to the media to cover it up.

Landrieu demanded Cassidy bring his time sheets to their Monday evening debate, and in two radio spots released on Monday, she blasted Cassidy over the allegations. She also held a press conference on Monday to highlight the allegations.

“We very much expect the recent revelations about Congressman Cassidy double-dipping taxpayer funded paychecks will have an impact on those who have yet to vote and will convince those who were already hesitant to vote for Cassidy to not show up for him,” a Democratic source close to the campaign told The Hill.

But strategists in the state say it’s likely too late for the allegations to make an impact big enough to turn the tide.

“It has some potential, but I think it came so late that it won’t have time to develop into something that would be hugely damaging to him,” Mann said. “We’ll see how he handles it at the debate tonight, because that will have some bearing, but my experience is that stuff like this that breaks late tends to get discounted, not just by the press but by voters, too.”

Cassidy and his campaign are pushing back hard against the allegations, saying they’re a last ditch effort to reverse the tide of a campaign that has moved against the Louisiana Democrat. 

Last week, The Hill interviewed Cassidy’s former boss, Dr. George Karam, a tenured professor at LSU, who praised Cassidy for the work he still does at the school.

“We were privileged to have Bill Cassidy,” Karam said. “I think we got much more than we paid for with everything he did beyond the hours he logged on the time sheet.”

Meanwhile, Landrieu continued her late push on Monday. R&B singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder was scheduled to perform at a fundraiser in New Orleans to raise money for the campaign, and Hillary Clinton will host fundraiser for her in New York City this evening.  

Landrieu is also getting support from her colleagues in Congress. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) will campaign on her behalf in Louisiana on Monday.

But Ford said that likely wouldn’t be enough. 

“It’s just kind of a [Republican] tidal wave of Biblical proportions this cycle,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s anything Mary could have done to overcome it.”

This post was updated at 3:57 p.m. 

Tags Bill Cassidy Louisiana Senate Mary Landrieu
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