Sabatos Crystal Ball

Louisiana Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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Outlook: Leans Democratic

October 20, 2008 Update:

Here we have the only remotely threatened Democrat-held seat in all of the Senate, and the race hasn’t even been as close as many thought. In a state wrought with demographic changes and partisan shifts all over the spectrum, it appears that incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu has opened up a significant, if not commanding, lead in the polls over former Democrat and Republican state treasurer John Kennedy.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has concentrated its efforts to unseat the senior Senator, has been strapped for cash as it fights battles on a few too many fronts across the country. Forced to almost pull ads and funding from the state, a last minute decision was made based on “tightening polls,” causing them to reverse course and continue the ad buys (a Kennedy internal poll does have the challenger within 5 points). It remains to be seen if National Republicans can afford to continue pouring money into the Bayou with the same vigor given the previously safe Republican seats in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky now seemingly up-for-grabs. Furthermore, the Republican brand has met with mixed results, given the positives of John McCain’s and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s statewide popularity versus the negatives of Sen. David Vitter and his prostitution controversy (how ironic would Vitter’s potential adverse influence on Kennedy be, given the fact that he beat the then Democrat Kennedy for the other seat in 2004?). This race still leans in Landrieu’s favor, and considering the national trends in recent weeks, we remain skeptical of Kennedy’s ability to close the still-present gap between him and the incumbent. Kennedy could very well end up being the lone star Quarterback forced to watch from the sideline as the Democrats’ constant offense keeps a tiring GOP defense on the field as the clock reaches 0:00.

June 2, 2008 Update:

The post-Katrina demographic changes within the state, most notably the diaspora of African-Americans to other Gulf states, suggests that Louisiana may lean in a much more Republican direction than it has of late. As a result, the race between Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Democrat-turned-Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy looks like it will be decided on a razor-thin margin. But with Democrat Dan Cazayoux’s victory in Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District, one of three Democratic victories in special elections for long-time Republican seats, Landrieu may be breathing just a touch easier. While the election of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal reinforced the perception of a pro-Republican shift in state politics, Cazayoux’s surprising win has buoyed Democratic hopes for a 2008 election cycle that will be kind to Democratic candidates. The next few months will be a long and bumpy ride for both candidates, as this race is still far too close to call.

April 10, 2008 Update:

Three months into 2008 and the race for Louisiana’s Senate seat has yet to heat up. Perhaps between the ongoing presidential campaign and the two House special elections, there is too much competing for the attention of Bayou State voters. Whatever the case, the continued low profile of this race stands to benefit incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu who will need all the help she can get to overcome the demographic changes in post-Katrina Louisiana.

Her challenger, former Democratic state Treasurer John Kennedy has yet to catch fire with conservative voters. Although he is a top notch candidate, Kennedy’s preferred message of fiscal conservatism does little to quiet the state’s Republican base concerns about his liberal social views. Fortunately for Kennedy, Louisiana’s old free-for-all primary election which rewards ideological purity is no more, and to date, he has not drawn a primary challenger to the right. After the national Democratic primary and state special elections fade from the news cycle, Kennedy must take the fight to Landrieu and jumpstart a race that has been slow to develop.

Landrieu, on the other hand, has benefited from the developments of 2008. In the past month, she picked up the endorsements of several North Shore Republican elected officials and has continued to raise money at a steady clip. Landrieu’s appeal to voters is simple: put aside partisan differences and focus on the needs of the rebuilding state. Her two terms of seniority, Landrieu argues, are the state’s most valuable asset, given the relative youth of Louisiana’s congressional delegation (1 freshman senator, 2 open House seats). Her coveted seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairmanship of a FEMA oversight subcommittee, Landrieu protests, should not be discarded lightly either. In the end, the election may come down to whether Landrieu can convince voters that her seniority best serves the state’s interest or whether the incumbent succumbs to the irresistible forces of Governor Jindal, Senator McCain, and Louisiana’s changing demographics.

December 14, 2007 Update:

This is the only contest involving a Democratic incumbent because, incredibly, this is the only incumbent that Republicans have any reasonable shot at defeating. Senator Mary Landrieu has won two close contests for Senate, and with the exodus of Democratic African-American votes from New Orleans to other states after Hurricane Katrina, she can take nothing for granted. Her GOP opponent will be state Treasurer John Kennedy, a party-switcher. This is likely to be a tight race from beginning to end. Our instinct is to give the edge to Landrieu, but newly elected Governor Bobby Jindal (R) is a big asset for Kennedy, and the national Republican Party, having no other targets, can be expected to pour resources into this race. Also keep in mind that a court decision has required the state to hold regular party primaries in 2008 instead of the unique all-party primary that has characterized Bayou State politics for decades. This could be a wild card, too.


Democratic Incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu is in dire danger of falling victim to the Republican trend that is taking over this post-Katrina, rapidly-Reddening state.

Whether Landrieu sinks or swims will be dependent in large part on the identity of her future contender, but no matter who she runs against, Landrieu will always have the invaluable advantage of entrenched incumbency and name-recognition. Looking to capture a third term in 2008, Landrieu won her first two elections by incredibly narrow margins – showing that while her base may not be as strong as other incumbents’, she does know how to win the close ones.

Another advantage for the incumbent is her fundraising capability (she took in $1 million in the first quarter of this year, thrice her total of the last quarter in 2006), in addition to the financial strength of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Yet the Senator will also have to contend with changing demographics in the post-Katrina state, where the margin of victory for a Democrat in a much smaller New Orleans may no longer be enough to cover the Republican votes in the rest of the state.

If Landrieu and her team can use her incumbency to their advantage, while simultaneously adapting to her constituency’s shifting demographics, she may be able to hold onto her seat. At this point, anything is possible, but one certain fact is that Landrieu ends 2007 as the most vulnerable Democrat in 2008.

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Mary Landrieu (I) – Democrat – current Senator

John Kennedy – Republican – state Treasurer