Mary Landrieu’s long goodbye

A major item of unfinished business from the midterm elections is the Louisiana Senate runoff election.  The presence of a second Republican candidate prevented Republican Bill Cassidy from putting incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu away on Election Night, so a runoff is scheduled for December 6.  Landrieu finished slightly ahead of Cassidy in the three-way race, but it is widely assumed that almost all of departed Republican Rob Maness’ support will swing to Cassidy, leaving Landrieu with an uphill fight to hang on to her seat.  Unfortunately, this will oblige her to keep pretending she lives in a region she describes as full of racists, rather than retiring to the posh digs in Washington she clearly finds more comfortable, but she appears willing to make the sacrifice.

Her party and its donors, on the other hand, might be thinking twice about making further sacrifices in a long-shot bid to retain a Senate seat that doesn’t hold much beyond symbolic value to them at this point.  Politico reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is canceling some of the advertising it had planned for the coming month:

The committee canceled buys planned from Monday through December 6 in the Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans markets, three sources tracking the air war told POLITICO.

With control of the Senate no longer on the line, the race becomes less important for both party committees – which each took out loans in the final weeks before Tuesday’s election.

“Mary Landrieu is a proven run-off winner and we support her 100 percent,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky. “We are going to make ongoing determinations on how best to invest in the race. We made the initial reservation when there were concerns that the rates would skyrocket but they have stabilized, giving us more flexibility to make week-to-week decisions.”

Cancelling those ad buys is the kind of signal no amount of chipper spin from committee spokespersons can obscure.  Naturally, the race was more of a money magnet when it could have decided control of the Senate, soaking up a good $40 million in combined spending; maybe it would devour $40 million more if the current Senate count stood at 50-50, or 51-49, or 50-49 plus independent Angus King of Main covering “Call Me, Maybe” in the Capitol lounge.  Now that control of the Senate is not in doubt, Louisiana is something of an epilogue to national strategists.

But it’s probably of slightly more value to Republicans, who would get to nudge King away from the karaoke mike and belt out “We Are the Champions” again in December if Cassidy wins.  More importantly, you’ve got to wonder what Louisiana voters think of the situation.  Who wants to bust their hump for a month, and empty their wallet again, just to keep one more incumbent seated with a comprehensively-defeated minority?  It’s better to be on top of the GOP wave than beneath it.  (On the other hand, some of Maness’ supporters might decide to sit the runoff election out, knowing that control of the Senate doesn’t hang in the balance; there are reasons they didn’t abandon that long-shot third-wheel bid and hand Cassidy an outright victory this week.)

Also, the pressures that put Landrieu in the danger zone remain in effect, from shifting regional politics to the unpopularity of Barack Obama.  That’s probably going to get worse, in fact, given Obama’s determination to get all shake-fisty with the voters who dared to trounce his party.  It’s also getting worse because all the talking heads are openly admitting Obama’s unpopularity was a major reason the Democrats got wiped out, a Party-salvaging concession that’s going to feel like lemon juice on a paper cut to dejected Democrat voters in Louisiana.  And if Obama goes ahead with his executive orders for amnesty, there’s really no point in Landrieu showing up for the runoff election at all.  You know what else people are going to see before they vote in that runoff election?  Their ObamaCare premiums for next year.

Even before the election went down on Tuesday, National Journal speculated that Landrieu might not enjoy a lot of support in a runoff:

Unlike other races where competing outside groups have helped keep spending near parity, Landrieu will be going at this without the help of some of her party’s biggest allies. Top-spending green groups, as well as several women’s-health-focused groups known for their epic fundraising abilities, have said they won’t be coming to Landrieu’s aid this November, even if the Senate majority is at stake.

 That’s partly because Landrieu has focused much of her campaign around the clout she brings to Louisiana’s top industries through her position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Though it’s a position of great value to her in-state supporters—many of whom have contributed directly to her campaign—it’s one that’s put her at odds with some of the biggest outside spenders for Democrats.

Together five eco-focused groups this cycle—Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, NextGen Action Fund, Environmental Defense Action Fund, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club—have spent more than $85 million on the midterms, primarily on vulnerable Senate Democrats. When asked whether they’d come to rescue Landrieu, several of the groups turned up their noses.

She’s also not popular with the deep-pockets abortion fanatics, who are a bit tapped out after the main election anyway, and not terribly pleased with what they got for their money.

Bill Cassidy, on the other hand, can count on help from plenty of Republican heavy hitters, with National Journal specifically mentioning the NRA, the Ending Spending Action Fund, and (scary thunderclap!) “the Koch Brothers-backed group Freedom Partners.”  Cassidy also seems to be enjoying his moment on center stage.  Landrieu wanted to have six debates before the runoff election, but Cassidy agreed to just one… plus one more for every visit Barack Obama makes to Louisiana, something he knows Obama is unlikely to do.  That’s a great smart-ass response, but it should be noted that Cassidy’s general reluctance to debate is something Landrieu (and Rob Maness) used against him during the campaign.  With such a short window of time before the final showdown, he can hope voters will find one more debate sufficient.

Supposedly Governor Bobby Jindal’s endorsement of Cassidy on Wednesday is also something of a mixed blessing, because the Governor isn’t scoring well in Louisiana polls these days.  This is Jindal’s first direct endorsement of Cassidy; he has said he didn’t want to endorse either Republican candidate when two of them were still in the running.  It will be interesting to see how that relationship plays out, but no one seems to think Jindal is unrealistic enough to throw his weight behind Cassidy if he thought the endorsement would hurt.  Maybe the Republicans nurse an outside hope that Jindal’s involvement will prompt Obama to jump in for Landrieu.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune found Landrieu’s performance on Election Day to be well short of her expectations, citing depressed turnout from Obama voters who buoyed her run in 2008 as one of the reasons.  That’s not a factor likely to change much in the runoff.  Cassidy is banking on Landrieu’s 97 percent support for Obama to sink her; she’s been trying to rally her supporters by castigating Cassidy for supposedly being “disrespectful to the office of president.”  In this environment, the former tactic is considerably more resonant than the latter.  There are quite a few things President Obama could say or do that would blow Landrieu’s candidacy out of the water.  How much money are her supporters willing to bet on him not saying or doing any of them before December 6?