Mary Landrieu's Keystone stunt can't save her: Why the Democrat is a lost cause

A new poll shows that the Louisiana senator is headed for a crushing defeat in the state's December 6 runoff

By Luke Brinker
Published November 17, 2014 3:45PM (EST)
Mary Landrieu          (Reuters/Jonathan Bachman)
Mary Landrieu (Reuters/Jonathan Bachman)

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu garnered the widespread attention she sought last week when she delivered a Senate floor stemwinder demanding that President Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline. It was a political Hail Mary from a conservative Democrat facing difficult odds in a December 6 runoff -- and a new poll underscores that it won't work.

On Election Day, the three-term senator finished first in the state's jungle primary. But she received just 42 percent of the vote, while her Republican opponents won a combined 56 percent. Given that just about anyone who'd vote for Landrieu voted for her on November 4, it's hard to see how she gets much more than 42 percent in the runoff, in which she faces Republican congressman Bill Cassidy. And it's quite conceivable, depending on turnout, that she performs even worse.

Landrieu isn't going down without a fight, however. After the GOP picked up the Senate two weeks ago, Landrieu lost one of the central rationales for her candidacy -- that as chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, she wielded vital clout on behalf of her industry-heavy state. Hence her strident, last-ditch call for a Keystone vote, which reportedly still lacks sufficient support to overcome a filibuster.

On its face, it doesn't make much sense as a political strategy. It's not as if Cassidy opposes constructing the pipeline; in fact, Cassidy was the lead sponsor of the House's pro-Keystone bill, which passed on Friday. (Mitch McConnell has also promised Cassidy a seat on the Energy Committee, undercutting Landrieu's argument that she'd still be influential there as the ranking Democrat.) Since both candidates support Keystone, it's basically a debate over which candidate supports it harder, which matters little to Louisiana voters.

The latest poll in the race shows just how fruitless Landrieu's Keystone gambit will prove. The survey, from Magellan Strategies, gives Cassidy a 16-point lead over Landrieu, 57 percent to 41 percent. The poll was conducted Wednesday, the day of Landrieu's Keystone speech, so it doesn't fully capture whatever effect the speech had. But it's hard to believe it moved many voters, although it's certainly possible that maybe Landrieu will only lose by 14 points now.

Why is Louisiana poised to oust the senator? It's not because she's displayed insufficient subservience to the oil and gas industry. Instead, Louisiana isn't immune from the trend witnessed elsewhere in the South, whereby whites abandon the Democratic Party in droves while African Americans display strong loyalty to Democratic candidates. In her 2008 re-election race, which she won with 52 percent of the vote, Landrieu received 33 percent of the white vote. Two weeks ago, she could only muster 18 percent of whites. In theory, Landrieu could hang on by massively driving up African American turnout, Thad Cochran-style. But good luck doing that while also needling President Obama over Keystone.

In short, Landrieu's Senate career is coming to an end in a few weeks, Keystone vote or no. She'd might as well start polishing her resume for the American Petroleum Institute.

Luke Brinker

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