Red-state Dems who will shun Obama

Three incumbent Senate Democrats have one thing in common. They greatly benefit because they enjoy the distinct political asset of a “good name.”

They are all from decidedly red states where President Obama is downright unpopular. In fact, he lost these three states by landslide margins in 2008 and 2012. One could reasonably make the argument, how did they get elected in the first place and how can they possibly be reelected?

{mosads}Not one of these sitting senators will be found near the president if he comes into the state for any reason or function. They will shun him! Oh, there will be weak apologies — “an unavoidable conflict,” “a miscommunication between staffs,” “a longstanding commitment” — you take your pick. One thing is for sure: There will be no pictures of Obama with Sens. Mark Pryor, Mark Begich or Mary Landrieu before Tuesday, Nov. 4, Election Day.

Six years ago, Mark Pryor of Arkansas did not even have a Republican opponent. Today, he is considered the No. 1 endangered Democratic senator. His opponent is Rep. Tom Cotton (R), a Harvard Law School graduate, former platoon leader in Iraq and operations officer in Afghanistan. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the state by 26 points. Pryor is the only Democrat left in the Arkansas delegation, and Republicans control both houses of the state legislature.

It wasn’t always this way. I distinctly remember working for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 and the one state where the campaign thought it had a chance to win was the Razorback State. McGovern even campaigned there.

Arkansas has elected some giants and legendary Democrats. Start with President Clinton and add Dale Bumpers (governor and senator), William Fulbright (senator and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and John McClellan (representative and senator).

Mark Pryor has been elected twice to the U.S. Senate. He graduated from the University of Arkansas and its law school. He was first elected to the Arkansas House in 1990. He then went on to win statewide as attorney general. But his greatest advantage in my opinion is David Pryor — his father. Talk about a storied political career.

David Pryor is an enormously likeable individual and holds the singular distinction in Arkansas of being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1966), as governor (1974) and to the U.S. Senate (1978).

Mark Pryor is so certain of his father’s good name that he has even done a TV ad with him as a way of justifying his vote for the Obama health insurance bill. Mark Pryor is a self-professed Christian evangelical with a pro-gun rights conservative voting record, but what I think Arkansas voters will most remember when they vote is his good name.

Mark Begich of Alaska is trying for his second term. His state voted for Mitt Romney by 14 points. Before that, 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain won by 21 points. Republicans control both houses of the state legislature.

Six years ago Begich vanquished an icon, Ted Stevens. Stevens had been in the Senate since 1968. His 3,900 vote margin was a stunning defeat for the senior-most Republican in the Senate. Begich is a former two-term mayor of Anchorage. (He ran two times before and lost.)

His father, Nick Begich, was Alaska’s at-large representative. He died in a tragic airplane crash in October 1972. With him was House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-La.).

Begich has made his goal to be proudly and defiantly “independent.” This is a smart political posture. This is the state where Ross Perot got his highest percentage in 1992 (28 percent) and Ralph Nader his highest in 2000 (10 percent). Above everything else, Begich is also proudly parochial. He has said that the National Democratic Party is “wrong” on gun control and “wrong” in opposing drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. And he has fought any efforts to cut funding for the Essential Air Service subsidy program that provides flights to remote Alaska spots.

Begich, like Pryor, is the only Democrat left standing in his state’s congressional delegation. He has shown that he can raise substantial sums and be competitive in this Republican state. He has now drawn a tough Republican opponent who has won statewide, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan, but his fiercely independent streak puts him in good shape. This is a place where Independents hold 58 percent of party registrations (Republicans are 27 percent and Democrats a mere 14 percent).

When Alaska voters decide, they will factor in that Begich is not your traditional Democrat and one major element will also be his father’s good name.

There is no doubt of where Louisiana stands in the political profile of this country. This is a state where Bill Clinton won twice (1992 and 1996), but those days are over. Romney won with 58 percent of the vote. McCain won with 59 percent.

In the Bayou State, the governor is Republican and once again both houses of the state legislature are Republican. There is one Democrat, Cedric Richmond, in the congressional delegation, but he is an African-American who represents a majority-minority district.

Mary Landrieu was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. The downside is that she has never won with more than 52 percent of the vote. Before that, she was elected to the Louisiana House and statewide as treasurer. She also ran for governor in 1995, but lost. Her good name has a double feature.

First and foremost is her father, Moon Landrieu. The very popular former mayor of New Orleans was also secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Another 1972 memory: Moon Landrieu was considered to be McGovern’s running mate, but people were seriously worried about the newspaper headline “Moon over Miami.” (The convention was in Miami Beach, Fla.)

In addition, Mary Landrieu’s brother, Mitch, is the former lieutenant governor of the state and the present scandal-free mayor of New Orleans. It should be noted that this state has the second-highest percentage of black residents at 32 percent (Mississippi having the highest).

Mary Landrieu has a strong pro-civil rights record and her father’s and brother’s reputations among African-American voters help even more. She will rack up huge numbers in that community. On guns, one stunning vote stands out: She was one of only six Democrats in 2004 to vote against extending the ban on assault weapons.

Last time she ran in 2008, she won the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That reflects her pro-business stance. She is a defender of the oil industry, which is big in her state. The natural gas industry has a friend in Landrieu as well. She’s ardently for the pipeline and very conservative on national security issues.

Mary Landrieu is exceptionally outgoing and has politics in her blood. She seems to relish a political fight. The Republican will probably be Rep. Bill Cassidy. He faces a formidable opponent who, above all, has a stellar good name.

Oh, one final afterthought — watch for Georgia on November 4. There is a non-incumbent named Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D). Same logic applies.

This piece originially ran under the headline “A good name.”

Plotkin is a political analyst and a contributor to the BBC on American politics.

Tags 2014 Elections Alaska Arkansas David Pryor Louisiana Mark Begich Mark Pryor Mary Landrieu Mitch Landrieu Moon Landrieu Nick Begich

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