Democrats Leave Senator Landrieu for Dead

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is in the political fight of her life. So why doesn’t the Democratic Party have her back?

Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

Sen. Mary Landrieu did everything she could Monday night to salvage the shards of her bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

In her only debate against her Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu lit into the congressman as untrustworthy and dishonest, at one point accusing him of telling a “blatant lie.” She also spoke repeatedly of her Catholic faith, called abortion “in almost every case immoral,” and described Cassidy as “disrespectful to the president and the office of the president. She also promised that if the Cassidy is elected to the Senate, which she said she “doubts” will happen, he’ll face subpoenas for a getting paid for a part-time job as a doctor at Louisiana State University. Landrieu says he didn’t always show up for work, an arrangement that has led the Landrieu campaign to start calling Cassidy “Dr. Double Dip.”

As Landrieu sparred with Cassidy in Baton Rouge, her campaign hosted a New Orleans fundraiser with soul singer Stevie Wonder, while Hillary Clinton threw a separate event for her in New York. These were both attempts to close the $500,000 cash advantage that Cassidy has opened up over Landrieu since they both advanced to the state’s runoff, which is scheduled for Saturday.

Unfortunately for Landrieu, nothing she did Monday night, or in the month leading up to Saturday’s runoff, is likely to matter. As Republicans have marshaled their resources and plowed them toward Cassidy’s campaign, national Democrats have all but jumped ship from Landrieu, leaving the senator to run a local campaign in a nationalized election. Not only is she paying the price for the unpopularity of her party and her president in Louisiana, where Barack Obama’s approval ratings have sunk below 40 percent, she’s being forced to do it without the resources she thought she’d have to finish the job.

“Short of treason by Cassidy in the next 72 hours, I just don’t see it,” said Bernie Pinsonat, an independent pollster in Louisiana. “The issue is she voted with Barack Obama. Whether you like it or not it’s the big issue that’s killing her.”

In return for Landrieu supporting Democrats in Washington with her votes, to her own political doom it seems, it’s hard to imagine how a party could more fully abandon a sitting senator than the way national Democrats have left Landrieu for dead since Election Day. The three-term incumbent from one of the state’s most storied political families finished first with 42 percent of the vote, but well short of the 50 percent she needed to avoid a runoff with Cassidy, who finished second (a second Republican got nearly 14 percent of the vote in November, and polling shows that virtually all of his vote is going to Cassidy).

Now, with post-Election Day polls showing Landrieu in grave danger of losing in December, and Democratic coffers beyond empty, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee canceled nearly $2 million in ad buys it had reserved in the state to support Landrieu’s campaign. Days later, Landrieu went to Washington in an extravagant push for a Senate vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, only to see her colleagues leave her one humiliating vote short of passage on an issue Landrieu claimed would prove her clout.

Pinsonat said that while Landrieu’s voting record is hurting her more than the DSCC pull out and the Keystone vote, those events no doubt hurt her with her supporters. “Once the die is cast and your voters are seeing that your own allies are pulling out on you, your own allies don’t help you pass a bill that’s very important to your reelection, those are all dampeners to turnout for your voters,” he said.

Compare Landrieu’s fight against her party to the GOP support for Cassidy, who has been hoisted on Republicans’ shoulders like a star quarterback since he made it into the runoff. Since Election Day alone, Cassidy has seen the NRSC spend $1.4 million on his behalf, while outside conservative groups from the NRA to American Crossroads to Freedom Partners have combined to spend an additional $4 million for the congressman. The only outside efforts for Landrieu, meanwhile, have been the DSCC, with an anemic $53,000, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund (you read that right—the Humane Society Legislative Fund) which doubled the DSCC’s investment and contributed $123,000 to support Landrieu’s bid.

The GOP has supported Cassidy in other ways, too. On the day before Landrieu saw her Keystone efforts blow up in the Senate, House Republicans passed Cassidy’s own Keystone bill in short order. While Landrieu has been fundraising to pay for her own local radio ads, GOP leaders have had Cassidy give a lengthy Republican National Radio address not once, but twice. Presidential hopefuls and movement superstars from Marco Rubio to Rand Paul to Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin have piled into the state to add endorsements, campaign visits, or both.

Landrieu’s bandwagon has been less crowded. Down as much as 20 points in recent polls and getting outspent by Republicans nearly ten-fold, Landrieu is truly finding out who her friends are in Washington. And as it turns out, her individual colleagues, especially Democratic women senators, are supporting her campaign to its bitter end even if their campaign committee is not.

Of her 15 fellow Democratic women senators, all have given at least $5,000 to Landrieu’s campaign. Even after Election Day when the DSCC essentially declared Landrieu a goner, Sens. Maria Cantwell, Mazie Hirono, Barbara Mikulski, Jeanne Shaheen, Debbie Stabenow, and former Sen. Blanche Lincoln all gave Landrieu’s campaign money to keep her going through the runoff.

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Six others—Sens. Barbara Boxer, Kirstin Gillibrand, Heidi Heitkamp, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, and Patty Murray, along with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz—had already maxed out to Landrieu with $15,000 in donations from their leadership PACs.

Even with the last-minute infusions from those and other senators, such as Tom Carper and Mark Warner, early voting numbers released Monday by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office were ominous for Landrieu. The number of people voting early fell off precipitously for every category except one, Republican voters, which bounced up 10 percent. The number of Democrats voting fell 18 percent.

After Landrieu lost the Keystone vote in Washington, she was asked if she blamed her fellow Democrats for not being able to get enough votes to pass the bill that could have helped her reelection, at least in some small way. “There is no blame,” Landrieu said, describing her childhood habit of shaking hands with her opponents even after losing a ball game. “There is only joy in the fight.”