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Landrieu’s Lament

Almost immediately after Rep. Bobby Jindal’s (R-La.) landslide gubernatorial victory in the Pelican State over the weekend, national Democratic and Republican officials went to work trying to interpret how the state election results affect the size of the target on Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) back.

National Republican Senatorial Committee officials were excited that Jindal was able to win his seat outright with 54 percent of the vote on the first round of balloting for the open gubernatorial seat. They say Jindal’s victory is a sure sign of an increasingly Republican electorate in Louisiana.

“The message from voters in the state elections was loud and clear,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “The era of mismanagement and incompetence by Democrats in the state is over. Mary Landrieu’s re-election prospects just got a whole lot dimmer.”

Landrieu, who is considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat running for re-election in 2008, is expected to face state Treasurer John Kennedy, who won a third term over the weekend in his uncontested race. Kennedy made the jump to the Republican Party before this election in what was largely believed to be a prelude to challenging Landrieu.

Adding to Landrieu’s shaky outlook is the fact that she won her first two Senate elections in part because she racked up large majorities in the New Orleans area. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the conventional wisdom is that much of the minority Democratic base of support in the city still has not returned.

Jindal, who represents a suburban New Orleans district, took most of the New Orleans-area parishes in Saturday’s election.

But Democrats say Republicans are looking at the wrong race results for an indication of Landrieu’s strength. Democratic officials argued Monday the landslide re-election of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D), was good news for the Senator and a more accurate barometer of her political prospects.

“Republicans can’t walk around and say because Bobby Jindal got 54 percent that means something and ignore the fact that Mitch Landrieu got 57 percent,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller said. “Jindal was expected to win and he did. He didn’t have serious opposition. The Democratic party wasn’t united behind a candidate” they way the party is behind Landrieu.

Miller added that recent history has shown the gubernatorial race to have little bearing on Senate races in Louisiana.

In 1995, Mike Foster won the governor’s seat with 64 percent of the vote. The next year Landrieu won her Senate seat by a little more than 5,000 votes.

“Our view of this is that the numbers from Saturday night tell us that Louisiana’s past track record of being a very independent state with a very strong and pragmatic center that can go in and split tickets and switch votes is still very much the norm,” an aide to Mary Landrieu said on Monday. “Louisiana is following the same political trends it has always followed and the post-Katrina effect on state politics is not as it’s been portrayed. … This giant shift that many pundits have tried to portray isn’t actually happening.”

Hunter Johnston, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and son of former Louisiana Sen. Bennett Johnston (D), said on Monday that “it’s really hard to take what happened Saturday night and say clearly it cuts one way or another with respect to Mary’s chances of being re-elected. … I’m not saying she’s not vulnerable, she has barely won against candidates that were not necessarily the strongest candidates from the Republican side.”

But, Johnston said, Landrieu’s race is likely going to be more about personality than party.

“Kennedy is a strong candidate, but he’s a party switcher,” Johnston said. “He ran against [Sen.] David Vitter [(R-La.) in 2004] and was probably the most left of the Democratic candidates. Now he’s going to run a race against Mary. … I don’t see that a hyper partisan race is going to work.”

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