Landrieu on the Ropes in Louisiana

Not since Huey P. Long unseated Sen. Joseph Ramsdell in the then-decisive Democratic primary back in 1930 has a sitting U.S. senator met defeat in Louisiana. Alone among the states of the Old Confederacy, Louisiana has not sent a Republican to the Senate since Reconstruction.

But all of that may change December 7, when the Pelican State either re-elects Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu or replaces her with Republican State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell.

The 47-year-old Landrieu, daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and winner of the closest, most-disputed Senate race in the nation six years ago, drew only 46% of the vote in the initial balloting November 5. Terrell placed second with 27%. Two other conservative Republicans won a combined 24% while a black Democrat and four others drew the remaining 3%. (Under Louisiana’s unique election system, if the top vote-getter does not receive 50% of the vote in the November primary election, there is a run-off general between the top two finishers.)

Republicans in both Washington and Baton Rouge are enthusiastic about their chances of expanding their new 51-seat Senate contingent to 52. Terrell herself has underscored this theme in her campaign by arguing that Louisiana, already represented by Democratic Sen. John Breaux, needs one senator in the majority party.

Vice President Dick Cheney raised more than $250,000 for Terrell’s campaign with a swing through the state two weeks ago and President Bush is scheduled to make at least one campaign visit.

Despite some questions early in the campaign about the credibility of her pro-life stance and slow-coming endorsements from Republican Gov. Mike Foster and the two Republican candidates she beat November 5, Terrell now leads a united and well-funded conservative front against the incumbent.

Landrieu faces the same dilemma that has defeated other Democrats in the South in recent elections: how can she appeal to a statewide constituency that is basically conservative without offending the Democratic Party’s leftwing base. In Landrieu’s case she is using a strategy of deception. Although she votes like a liberal in the Senate-racking up a lifetime rating of only 14% with the American Conservative Union-she is trying to project the image of almost always voting with the more popular, and moderate, Breaux (lifetime ACU rating: 47%).

On some of the most high-profile issues, she has been careful not to cast an obvious liberal vote. For example, she voted for the ban on partial-birth abortion and for the Bush tax cuts. Prior to the primary, as syndicated columnist Robert Novak put it, she “campaigned as President Bush’s best friend in Louisiana.”

But, as many pundits noted, this may have depressed turnout among black Democrats, who provided Landrieu’s razor-thin margin in 1996. (She won by only 5,788 votes out of over 1.7 million cast.) It’s estimated that 50% of eligible white voters voted in Louisiana in the November election, while only 35% of eligible black voters did.

Continuing her fraudulent claim to be as moderate as Breaux in order to pick up white Democratic votes can only exacerbate her problems with black voters. Moreover, Terrell and her supporters also have a healthy list of Landrieu’s liberal votes they are using to drive a wedge between her and Louisiana’s mainly conservative white voters. For example, she voted against the confirmation of John Ashcroft from Missouri for attorney general. (Ashcroft is a hero to evangelical Christians who make up a significant share of the Louisiana electorate.) She also voted against the Boy Scouts, opposing an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) that would have withheld federal funds from public school systems that prohibit the Boy Scouts from meeting in their facilities.

Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R.-Ga.), who defeated incumbent Sen. Max Cleland (D.-Ga.) on November 5, used that Boy Scout vote in devastating television ads that helped drive his come-from-behind underdog victory.

“Landrieu’s running for her political life because she’s been caught lying,” says Louisiana Eagle Forum President Sandy McDade. McDade draws particular attention to Landrieu’s disingenuous position on abortion-a decisive issue in Louisiana, which is one of the most pro-life states in the nation. “In the last campaign, she would begin every answer to a question on abortion with ‘I’m personally pro-life’ and, to her credit, she did vote for the ban on partial-birth abortions,” said McDade. “But she also has a list of other votes that were pro-abortion, such as her support of permitting military hospitals overseas to perform abortions.”

Just before the Senate adjourned, noted McDade, Landrieu voted against “strict constructionist” Dennis Shedd who was confirmed as judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

McDade, who supported conservative State Rep. Tony Perkins in the initial balloting, volunteered that she was “an early skeptic” of Terrell’s pro-life credentials “because she had no record on the issue and because of the business with Planned Parenthood.”

In 1994, when Terrell was a New Orleans city councilwoman, her name was listed on the host committee for a Planned Parenthood banquet. Questioned about the endorsement repeatedly, Terrell has explained that a member of her staff had given the group permission to use her name without her approval and that she has never been a supporter of Planned Parenthood.

McDade, one of the most prominent pro-life activists in the nation, told HUMAN EVENTS that she has had a meeting with the Republican nominee and is “absolutely convinced of her commitment to the right to life and that she will support the nomination of strict constructionists to the courts.”

On November 11, Louisiana sources tell HUMAN EVENTS, Terrell held a private meeting at the A La Carte Restaurant in Lafayette with nearly 20 members of Acadiana Right-to-Life to discuss her pro-life stance. At one point, one attendee says, Terrell told the group she was “pro-life, all the way, with no exceptions,” and those at the meeting left unanimously pro-Terrell.

Erstwhile opponent Perkins, while at first expressing concern that Terrell was not strong enough on cultural issues, has since come out strongly for her and most of his supporters are now working hard for her victory in the runoff.

Gov. Foster and the Senate candidate he endorsed, U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, took longer to bestow post-primary blessings on Terrell and then offered only weak endorsements. Reportedly, even these came only after several telephone calls from White House political operative Karl Rove. But two well-placed sources in the Louisiana Republican Party told HUMAN EVENTS that the coolness of Foster and Cooksey toward Terrell had less to do with issues than with political patronage: Foster had worked hard to secure the appointment of Fred Heebe, husband of his political ally State Rep. Jennifer Sneed, as U.S. attorney, while Terrell, a member of the committee overseeing federal appointments for Louisianans, unsuccessfully opposed Heebe’s nomination.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” two weeks ago, Terrell stressed her support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent and for eliminating the Clinton-crafted tax on Social Security. When host Tim Russert repeatedly asked Landrieu if she, too, would vote to make the tax cuts permanent, Landrieu backtracked and equivocated each time, once replying that “I will vote to extend [sic] the tax cut if we can afford to do it, if our military doesn’t need the money or Social Security.”

If Republicans turn out to vote on December 7 as enthusiastically as they did on November 5, Landrieu will never cast another vote in the U.S. Senate.


No. Issue Position
1. Clinton Impeachment NOT GUILTY
2. Morning-After Pills For Schoolgirls FOR
3. Abortions in U.S. Military Hospitals FOR
4. Protect Boy Scouts From Discrimination AGAINST
5. Anti-First Amendment Campaign Reform FOR
6. International Criminal Court FOR
7. Increased Federal Gun Control FOR
8. Free Needles For Drug Addicts FOR
9. School Vouchers AGAINST
10. Ashcroft Nomination AGAINST

Suzanne Haik Terrell for U.S. Senate, P.O. Box 44298, Baton Rouge, La. 70804, (225) 218-8683.