In a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate,
Landrieu, a Democrat in a solidly red state that has grown more
conservative in her 18 years on the job, is bucking strong
"This is not my first rodeo," Landrieu told Reuters last week after
addressing a crowd, most of whom were in primary school when she
helped secure a $160 million loan to rebuild historically black
Dillard University in New Orleans, instead of relocating it to
"While the forces against us are pretty strong, I think the record
of my service and the coalition we’ve put together is stronger," she
But analysts see no easy path to victory - in either a November open
primary or a likely December runoff.
Six years ago, Landrieu won re-election with 52 percent of the vote
- the high-water mark of her first three Senate races, and the only
time she avoided a runoff. Her challenges in repeating that feat are
three-fold, analysts say.
The unusually high turnout of African-American voters in the 2008
presidential election, buoyed by then-candidate Barack Obama at the
top of the ticket, and key to Landrieu for the 90-plus percent of
black voters who back her, is unlikely to be replicated in 2014.
Hurricane Katrina, which demonstrated Landrieu's ability to steer
large recovery funds to her state, is for many a receding memory.
Among potential swing voters, she is weighed down by her
association-by-party with President Obama, who is deeply unpopular
among independent and Republican whites in the state, said Kurt
Corbello, associate professor of political science at Southeastern
Louisiana University and a longtime student of the state's politics.
Landrieu confronts these obstacles with a message built around her
clout and a robust fundraising apparatus that in the current cycle
has taken in over $14 million, more than $5 million in excess of her
main Republican challenger, U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy.
To woo moderates, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee has staked out positions - from supporting the
Keystone XL oil pipeline to favoring continued tax breaks for oil
drilling - that have also won over some in the state's fossil fuel
But the 2008 "Katrina bump" she enjoyed among whites in greater New
Orleans will be difficult to replicate, said John Couvillon, a
Louisiana pollster who works mostly for Republican candidates.
Moreover, he added, blacks made up an estimated 30 percent of
Louisiana's electorate that year, a figure likely to be closer to
25-27 percent in 2014.
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"In the absence of higher black turnout and Katrina, she would have
gotten 49 percent," he said, referring to 2008. "This occurred
before she had to carry water for an unpopular Democratic
Indeed, in a state Mitt Romney won by more than 17 percent in 2012,
with overwhelming support from whites, Cassidy and his backers have
persistently linked Landrieu to Obama and, in particular, to her
support of the Affordable Care Act.
"We’re merely pointing out that her record is in lock step with the
president's agenda," said Cassidy campaign spokesman John Cummins,
noting the steady, if slim, lead his candidate has enjoyed in polls.
If, as expected, no candidate secures a majority in the Nov. 4
primary, the top-two finishers, likely Landrieu and Cassidy, will
compete in a runoff on Dec. 6.
Both sides have set aside funds for the runoff, which, if
Republicans in November pick up five of the six seats they need to
gain Senate control, would likely prove decisive, said Jennifer
Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report.
"Whatever this race looks like on Nov. 3, it's going to look a lot
different on Nov. 5. It’s like hitting the reset button," she said.
But the hurdles in Landrieu's path appear unlikely to shrink after
the primary, Couvillon said."I never count her out because she's a
fighter," he said. "But the winds are blowing against her more
strongly than in the 2002 and 2008 elections."
(Additional reporting by Alistair Bell in Washington; Editing by
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