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.
A Landrieu defeat will leave only three remaining Democratic senators in southern states: two in Virginia and one in Florida. Two border states that are voting more like southern states, Missouri and West Virginia, each have one remaining Democrat, though Claire McCaskill survived in 2012 in Missouri only due to Republican Todd Akin’s absurd comments on rape and abortion. Joe Manchin in West Virginia often votes with Republicans. Also, one of the Democrat-held seats in Virginia almost fell in a stunningly close race (less than 1% margin) in November between incumbent Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie.
Two U.S. House races in Louisiana will also be decided in run-offs: no candidate in either race hit the 50% mark in Louisiana’s Fifth and Sixth. Both districts are heavily Republican, and Republicans are favored to win both runoffs. Fifth district incumbent Vance McAllister was trounced in the November election, and never recovered from a video showing the married congressman kissing a female aide in a hallway. Republican Ralph Abraham, a physician, is heavily favored to defeat Democrat Jamie Mayo, the mayor of Monroe, in an R +15 district.
The Sixth District race for Bill Cassidy’s open seat is a far more colorful race, since the leading vote-getter on November 4 was 87-year-old four-term governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards has a new wife 51 years younger than him, and a new child to add to those he had with his former wives; some of those children are decades older than his current spouse.
Edwards served almost a decade in jail for corruption during his last years as governor, and he probably could have served time for activities from his earlier terms as well.
Illinois has sent more ex-governors to jail than Louisiana, but even Rod Blagojevich is pretty dull material compared to Edwards. Republican Garret Graves, a former aide to Governor Bobby Jindal, is favored to beat Edwards in the R +21 district, but Edwards’ appeal should not be underestimated. His statewide approval rating is over 40%, higher than most other political figures in Louisiana. He has 100% name recognition, and he is the kind of candidate who might get the votes of people too embarrassed to let a pollster know their support for a rogue they consider “their rogue” (somebody who makes Louisiana, Louisiana).
Assuming Republicans win both Louisiana House runoffs and hold their very narrow lead (161 votes) in the recount being conducted in Arizona 2 (Republican Martha McSally challenging incumbent Democrat Ron Barber), Republicans will close the cycle with 247 House seats, their highest total in over 60 years and a gain of 13 seats for 2014. They will have 69 more seats than they held when Barack Obama took office.
A Cassidy victory over Landrieu will give the Republicans 54 Senate seats, 14 more than they held in early 2009 after Arlen Specter switched parties. In terms of control of Congress, Barack Obama has been very, very good for Republicans.