Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Senate Toss Up?

Political pundits and prognosticators have again and again cited the Louisiana Senate race between Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican State Treasurer John N. Kennedy as the GOP's only realistic chance of knock out a Democratic incumbent in their quest to prevent a filibuster-proof majority. Yet, by and large, there has not been extensive media coverage of the Louisiana race comparable to other swing Senate races around the country. The reasons for that may seem obvious at first-glance.

The Alaska race features the progressive former mayor of Anchorage, Mark Begich against the longest serving Republican Senator, Ted Stevens, who may be as likely to face jail time as he is to see another six years in office. The Colorado contest between progressive Rep. Mark Udall and Abramoff-connected, oil-pocketed Bob Schaffer has largely been a laugh-fest for those of us on the left. The insurgent campaign of Rick Noriega in Texas against arch-conservative John Cornyn and the seemingly unlikely viability of Ronnie Musgrove against Republican Senator Roger Wicker in Mississippi have captured a good deal of attention because of their symbolic implications.

Further, Louisiana political campaigns traditionally receive relatively little national attention because pundits admittedly don't understand the state's electoral structures, to say nothing of the colorful personalities that routinely defy the nation's sense of rational thought.

Nonetheless, considering the importance of this Senate race, I do feel as though coverage of this race has been seriously lacking.

And the specific reason for that may become glaringly apparent by the end of this quick primer.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu has established herself as a big swing vote, consistently rated as amongst her chamber's most moderate members. While progressives often decry her caves on FISA, the Iraq War, oil, etc., it is clear that she has aptly positioned herself to bring bacon home for her state. Whatever your feelings are on earmarks or pork-barrel legislation, it is difficult to argue that Louisiana doesn't need or deserve as much federal help as it can get.

Then there's John Neely Kennedy, the State Treasurer.

In 2004, when Democrats were working to save the open seat vacated by longtime Senator John Breaux, John Neely Kennedy was a Democratic candidate. He couched himself as the most progressive option in the primary, running to the left of eventual nominee Chris John. He even gave an enthusiastic speech introducing John Kerry, whom he endorsed, at a campaign event in New Orleans.

Still a Democrat and still the state treasurer well into 2007, the Louisiana GOP seemed to be struggling to find a candidate to run against the effective Landrieu. Top Bush advisor and possible convict Karl Rove made a special trip to meet with potential challengers. At the time, Stuart Rothenberg (see link), noted that Rove's eroding stature may have rendered him an ineffective recruiter, especially for a Democrat.

Yet John N. Kennedy was somehow convinced and a few short months later, switched his affiliation, ignoring not only all of the foibles of the GOP during the Bush administration, but also constantly updated national poll data reflecting overwhelming public dissatisfaction. In November of 2007, just five weeks after being reelected State Treasurer, he announced his intention to run against Landrieu.

Since then, he has run an inarticulate and unenthusiastic campaign. His inability to raise money in reputably ruby red Lousiana forced him to call in George W. Bush to Katrina territory for a fundraiser in late March.

The Daily Kingfish crunched the numbers
when the 2nd quarter fundraising totals were released. The Bush fundraiser alone accounted for over one third of Kennedy's meager haul. Without Bush's help, Kennedy would have raised less money in the 2nd quarter than he did in the first.

Meanwhile, Kennedy has awkwardly masked his party-hopping and flip-flopping by just gobbling up GOP talking points with little regard for fact. Last month, he took one of the more insulting routes possible, repeating the GOP-derived myth that "not one drop of oil" spilled during Hurricane Katrina ignoring that the talking point is patently false. While that may put you in the good graces of John McCain's campaign, it is awfully insulting to the people in your own state that survived the storm and are still learning the extent to which our eroded environment contributed to the strength of the storm and the extent to which the storm has eroded the environment.

Then, after slamming Mary Landrieu for an appearance with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of Mr. Bloomberg's progressive stance on social issues. That is ironic for a couple of reasons. First, as Oyster from Your Right Hand Thief points out, Kennedy has had trouble deciding how much he'd like to associate with sex-scandal marred Republican Senator David Vitter. After taking campaign money from Senator Vitter, he refused to answer whether or not he would be accepting Vitter's appearance on the campaign trail. Then he decided to indeed schedule a joint appearance at the end of August. The second interesting point to note about that is that Senator Vitter was once regional campaign chair for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is a well-known liberal on the same social issues for which Kennedy panned Bloomberg.

Just last week, the Daily Kingfish made another interesting observation about a Kennedy radio appearance - he was reading his policy on oil shale nearly verbatim from a wikipedia entry.

So with a filibuster-proof Senate majority on the line, the GOP has pinned its only hope of defeating an incumbent on a guy that isn't even properly prepared for softball radio interviews.

One would think that national GOP operatives would be really promoting this race in the media or working the right-wing fundamentalist roots for donations or activist assistance. But they're not. Not at all.

Maybe it's because not even the local GOP seems interested in this race.

This is John N. Kennedy kicking off his campaign bus tour to his most loyal supporters:

Here is one of his events in Alexandria, another critical population center:

Here is John Kennedy speaking to a quorum of supporters at another appearance in Houma:

So it's no wonder the national press doesn't have much to say about the supposedly-critical Senate race in Louisiana, neither does the local GOP. They're not exactly lining up to greet the man. Additionally, since John Kennedy has proven not to have much to say for himself, it looks like Mary Landrieu might not have much of a race on her hands after all.


Anonymous said...

so why did she just take the huge risk of launching the first negative attack ad against him, dumb dumb?

Clancy DuBos said...

Actually, it wasn't a risk at all, but a pretty shrewd strategy. Here's why: Landrieu has more than twice as much money in her campaign account as Kennedy has in his. Kennedy and various GOP stand-ins "launched" Internet-based attacks against Landrieu a long time ago, but to relatively little effect (unless you believe the Zogby poll, which few who know anything about politics believe).

By hitting Kennedy now, just as he attempts to "define" himself in the context of this race, Landrieu is putting forth a countervailing "definition" of Kennedy that clearly conflicts with the picture he wants to portray of himself. What does he do now? A cardinal rule in politics is that no attack should go unanswered, else it will become accepted as fact. The "risk" thus is with Kennedy. If he doesn't answer the Landrieu "attack," he runs the risk of having her define him. On the other hand, in order to answer it, he will have to spend a considerable amount of his campaign war chest — which will leave him with less money to spend on his own positive message. And, even if he does answer it, she can hit him again from another angle. Basically, it's the same strategy that GOP icon Ronald Reagan used to bring down the Soviet Union: she will spend him into oblivion.

No doubt Kennedy and/or the GOP, through various "527" groups, will hit Landrieu as well. But, by hitting him first, particularly after winning endorsements from GOP mayors and local GOP officials across the state, and in the same week as she won the unanimous support of LA sheriffs, Landrieu hardly looks like she's coming from a position of weakness. She has enough money to answer Kennedy AND the 527 groups. Kennedy now has to decide whether to answer the Landrieu attack or "risk" being "defined" as a flip-flopper who ran as a "liberal Democrat" a mere 4 years ago.

This was entirely foreseeable, BTW. The only unknown was precisely when Landrieu would hit him.

A final note: in her past campaigns, Landrieu was always the one to take the first hit. I suspect she has learned that the Republicans aren't going to play nice, so she decided to take off the gloves early and show them that she's not going to be a pushover.

E said...

Not to mention that John N. Kennedy SHOULD be exposed for being a totally empty suit with a moral compass adjustable to whatever constituency he needs money from. His record as State Treasurer is spotty and it would be a HUGE mistake to put him in the Senate when Mary Landrieu (whether you think she's gone too far to the middle or not) has been such an effective advocate for Louisiana.