By Jim Brown
Two seasoned political pros, who have lost a bit of their luster, may make the same big grab for political limelight in Washington. And what would be a surprise to many, they just might be racing against each other. Incumbent Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, the stateís longest serving statewide elected official, is hoping to extend her career in Washington for another six years. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has lost a good bit of his traction on the national scene and is looking for a place to land, may be taking a close look at challenging Landrieu next year.
The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by Ohio Senator Rob Portman, has profiled Landrieu as the most vulnerable Democrat up for re-election in 2014. Control of the U.S. Senate is at stake and the numbers bode well for Republicans. Of the 35 senate seats to be decided next year, 21 are presently held by Democrats. Six Democrats have announced their retirement, including long serving veterans like Montana Sen. Max Baucus, Michiganís Carl Levin and Iowaís Tom Harkin. So the Republicans see an opening that could allow them to take over the senate leadership.
Polls show Obamacare is losing support, giving Republicans a strong position against Democrats, and the issue seems to have legs. History is on the side of Republicans. At no time has a sitting presidentís party gained senate seats. In fact, in more recent elections, Democratic losses have averaged six seats. So the GOP, with some justification, feels buoyant over their chances to regain control. Landrieuís defeat is a key to the Republican effort, and one can expect that major out-of-state dollars will be abundant in supporting her Republican opponent.
Right now, that main Republican challenger is Congressman Bill Cassidy, who represents a south central district centered round the state capitol in Baton Rouge. Cassidy is a medical doctor and well respected as a liver specialist who created free dental and health care clinics for the working uninsured. This, plus the fact that his wife, Laura, is also a doctor, engenders a great deal of family respect throughout the state. Interestingly, of the six congressmen who presently represent Louisiana in Washington, three are medical doctors. The bottom line is, that on paper, Cassidy will give Landrieu a real run for the money if the race comes down to the two of them.
Landrieu certainly has her share of problems. Try as she may to play the role of a Louisiana caring moderate, she wonít be able to shake the Obama tie at a time when the President is now under siege and is likely to be so right up to the senatorial election. Louisianaís other Senator, Republican David Vitter, easily beat a democratic Congressman two years ago by simply continuing to hammer home the fact that the President and the congressman were both Democrats. Landrieu will carry the same albatross in a state that overwhelming went Republican in this past presidential election.
Landrieu is under criticism at home for rarely returning to Louisiana, choosing to spend most weekends in her multi-million Washington, D.C. home. Some party loyalists wonder how loyal a Democrat she really is. Landrieu is under criticism by her own party for passing over qualified Democrats for a number of federal appointments. Her pick for a recent opening on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was an obscure non-democratic assistant prosecutor who rarely votes in local elections and who has repeatedly given Republican Sen. David Vitter campaign contributions. Her selection for a new U.S. Attorney in New Orleans also is not a democrat. Party officials, for obvious reasons, are puzzled by her bizarre choices.
So can Gov. Bobby Jindal still be a part of the senate campaign scenario? Some observers think the Jindal team has become frustrated over Jindalís lack of traction on the national stage. Simply put, he has lost his home field advantage. While the Governor crisscrosses the nation in pursuit of respect on the national stage, problems continue to mount at home. His popularity in Louisiana has plummeted into the mid-thirties, lower than any Bayou State governor in memory. The courts have been particularly unkind, declaring many of the Governorís pet education and finance reforms unconstitutional, and he has been raked over the coals in the business community for a back door effort to significantly raise the state sales tax that presently is ranked as one of the highest in the country.
Recently, Jindal is staying closer to home in an effort to stem a legislative revolt. In the meantime, he has neglected opportunities to gain favor with big Republican dollar givers throughout the country. A few weeks ago he cancelled a speech to the Manhattan Institute, a group of major national campaign contributors who play a major role in early campaign giving. Reports from the meeting were that donors were livid over Jindal being a no show. He offered to send his education secretary John White and that caused even more consternation.
So whatís a pouting Governor to do? Consider the options. Since he is term limited in the next governorís race, and losing steam on the national scene, Landrieu and the Senate race just might be ripe for the picking. Jindalís political alter ego, a fellow named Timmy Teeple, abruptly departed the Cassidy for Senate team recently, and is looking for a place to land. Trying to elect his old boss may be an attractive alternative.
Surprisingly, Landrieu would much prefer a Jindal race rather than being hounded by Cassidy. All of Jindalís warts have been in public view for a good while and Landrieu feels she has plenty of ammo to paint Jindal as another failed incumbent. So instead of running from Cassidy, she can run a campaign directly against Jindal. In other words, hold your nose and vote for the lesser of the two evils. And the question remains as to whether Cassidy will step aside or stand toe-to-toe and challenge Jindal for the run -off spot.
Stay tuned! Far from being a two party, two horse race, this campaign has a long way to go to the finish line. And because of the national implications, it will be closely observed all across the country.