One More Makes 54: Cassidy Headed for Big Victory in Louisiana Senate Runoff

There have been few polls of the Louisiana Senate runoff, and all those conducted so far show Republican challenger Bill Cassidy with a commanding lead over three-term Senator Mary Landrieu. Landrieu has won two very close races before (one with a victory in a runoff in 2002, the other in her initial race for the Senate in 1996). Landrieu received the most votes of any single candidate on November 4, but she was well short of the 50% level required to avoid a runoff.

The votes for all the Republican candidates combined exceeded her total by 13% in the November election, and Republicans appear to have coalesced around Cassidy, with the few polls that have been released suggesting the 13% gap from November may be close to the margin in the runoff on Saturday (Cassidy has shown leads of 11, 16, and 21 points). Republican challengers have won big margins in taking down Democratic senators in Arkansas in 2010 (Blanche Lincoln) and 2014 (Mark Pryor). Pryor’s crushing defeat by Republican challenger Tom Cotton (by 17%) is particularly threatening to Landrieu, since the Pryor name in Arkansas has a long political history, much as Landrieu’s does in Louisiana. It was no protection for Pryor this cycle, and likely won’t be for Landrieu on Saturday.

Louisiana is a state where blacks are a significant share of the electorate (a third or more), and they vote overwhelmingly (over 90%) for Democrats, as they have for Landrieu in her several races.  Only Mississippi has a higher African American share of the population than Louisiana, even with the departure of many blacks from Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (leading to the loss of a U.S. House seat after the 2010 census). White voters have become almost as homogeneous a voting pool in the state in the other direction, with Landrieu receiving only 18% of white votes in the primary. Louisiana was carried twice by Bill Clinton and is one of the states that has moved most dramatically from blue dog Democrat to Republican in the past decade, along with Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia, all of which were carried by Bill Clinton twice and by Republicans in presidential races ever since.

Louisiana allows early voting for the runoff, and while the turnout numbers are not a high percentage of the overall voting population, turnout compared to the November race among early voters is up slightly for Republicans -- and down by over 20% among African Americans.  Democrats seem to have pretty much written off the runoff contest, pulling back on advertising planned earlier in the cycle. On the other hand, the “everyone wants to be with a winner” sentiment has led to some corporate PACs shifting campaign expenditures from the incumbent Landrieu in the November race to Cassidy for the runoff. Incumbency is a powerful lure for corporate donors, especially long-serving incumbents with choice committee seats.

With the Republican takeover of the Senate in the November elections even without the Louisiana seat, Landrieu’s “clout” disappeared. Her attempt to show her influence with a vote on the Keystone pipeline also failed, though Harry Reid for the first time allowed the vote to take place, even as he lined up enough votes (41) to prevent cloture on the measure. The Democrats were happy to give Landrieu one final stage. But they were not going to disappoint environmental absolutists like Tom Steyer, or for that matter Barack Obama, who seems to have decided that climate action is an important part of the legacy he hopes to build for posterity.