Historically, incumbent Democratic Senators in Louisiana have rarely worried about their re-election. In fact, in the past 30 years, an incumbent Democrat has only fallen below the 60% mark twice: (1) In 1980, the late Russell Long was re-elected by a 58-39% margin against Woody Jenkins (who was a Democrat back then), and (2) in 1990, former Senator J. Bennett Johnston was re-elected by a 54-44% margin against David Duke.
Senator Mary Landrieu, however, hasn’t been so fortunate. After winning her first election in 1996 by less than 10,000 votes, she was re-elected 52-48% in 2002, and in 2008, she was re-elected by a 52-46% margin. And while her 2008 re-election number was identical to her 2002 re-election percentage, the underlying demographics should be cause for some concern with regards to her 2014 re-election chances:
(1) The electorate that re-elected Mary Landrieu in 2002 was 71-27% white. This means that, while she received 95% of the black vote, she lost the white vote 36-64%;
(2) The electorate that re-elected Mary Landrieu in 2008 was 67-30% white. This means that, while she received 95% of the black vote, she lost the white vote 34-64%.;
(3) Her slippage in the white vote between 2002 and 2008 was mitigated by two extraordinary events: (1) Barack Obama’s victorious 2008 candidacy increased the black voting strength in Louisiana from 27 to 30% of the vote in four years (in fact, the white vote decreased 23,000 while the black vote increased 34,000 between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections); (2) Senator Landrieu’s visibility in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 clearly helped her throughout Metro New Orleans in her 2008 re-election race.
How much did Hurricane Katrina and Barack Obama benefit Mary Landrieu’s 2008 re-election ? We have analyzed the Landrieu vote between 2002 and 2008 and observed the following (we have also attached a map below):
(1) In 39 of the state’s 64 parishes (mainly parishes outside of metro Baton Rouge and New Orleans with smaller black populations), Senator Landrieu’s share of the vote declined – in these 23% (up from 21% in 2002) black parishes, she lost 49.7-50.3% in 2002, while in 2008, she lost those parishes 47-50%. In other words, her share of the vote decreased despite the fact that the black percent of the vote in these parishes increased 2%;
(2) In the five parishes in Metro New Orleans that saw significant hurricane damage (Jefferson, Orleans, St Bernard, Plaquemines, and St Tammany), Mary Landrieu’s share of the vote increased from 56-44% in 2002 to 59-39% in 2008. This despite the fact that the black voter percentage in these five parishes remained at 31% in both 2002 and 2008. This is the “Katrina bump” that we believe helped Senator Landrieu. In fact, had Mary Landrieu not received this “Katrina bump”, we calculate that her 52-46% re-election percentage would have instead been 51-47%;
(3) In the remaining 20 parishes, Senator Landrieu saw her share of the vote increase from 49.8-50.2% to 53-45%. This was due to a heavier black turnout; thanks to Barack Obama’s candidacy, the black percentage of the vote in those parishes increased from 30 to 35% of the electorate. Clearly, Barack Obama’s candidacy helped, because had Senator Landrieu received her 2002 percentages in those parishes (and had she not received a bump from Hurricane Katrina), her 52-46% re-election victory in 2008 would have instead been 49-49% – a 14,000 vote victory margin, in other words.
While we believe that Hurricane Katrina and Barack Obama were unique circumstances which benefitted Senator Landrieu in her 2008 re-election, we believe there are additional favorable circumstances in 2008 which would likely not happen again in 2014: (1) 2014 is not a Presidential election year, so she will not get historically high level s of Democratic turnout in 2014 like she did in 2008, (2) In her 2002 and 2008 re-election campaigns, she didn’t have any demonstrably liberal votes on legislation that could be used against her. It is true that back then, she voted against the confirmation for John Ashcroft for Attorney General and the Supreme Court confirmation of Samuel Alito. She also supported filibustering several of President Bush’s court nominees, but those votes taken together are not always viable campaign issues. In 2014, however, she will have liberal votes on health care and the stimulus plan on her record; (3) It also won’t help that she did not conduct town hall meetings, and there were accusations as well that her staff didn’t answer the phones. THOSE types of issues (as well as her recent votes) CAN be used against her n a 30 second campaign ad.
In conclusion, even assuming she can hold on to her percentage of the white vote, given what we’ve described above, we believe that she starts off her re-election with a 49-49% race. Meaning she has very little margin for error, especially if she has a credible opponent.