Landrieu mudsling unlikely to alter runoff dynamics
The “Hail Mary” to try to burnish embattled Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office-holding credentials came earlier this month. Now has come the “Hail Mary” that seeks to damage the front-running opponent to unseat her Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy – and neither will get the job done,
Polling shows Landrieu trailing badly in the runoff phase of her reelection attempt, after disappointing electoral returns in the general election. Immediately after Nov. 4, where she barely led Cassidy but came up way short of a majority mainly because of the presence of candidate Republican Rob Maness, she tried to shore up a main support to her campaign narrative, that being allegedly her effectiveness and indispensability to the state, by trying to get through the Senate a bill to override Pres. Barack Obama’s objection to the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. That effort failed by one vote, so the spin there became that at least she had gotten it to a vote after years of obstruction by Senate Democrats.
The next phase in the operation was to find a way to impugn Cassidy. To wit, right before Thanksgiving, ostensibly separate accounts essentially simultaneously hit the Internet about how Cassidy, who worked on a contractual basis with the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Baton Rouge while as a Member of Congress, had seeming inconsistencies in his performance to fulfill it. Basically it was argued that he had shortchanged the school about an hour-and-a-half a week in that salary.
It would take incredible suspension of disbelief to think that this was not a coordinated effort between the Landrieu campaign and the partisan individuals in question, even as that will be denied by all concerned at every opportunity. Knowledge of Cassidy’s contract was well-known, as Cassidy felt obligated to continue in a part-time capacity after his election to the House in the area of instruction because the system needed someone in his area of specialty. Basic opposition research months, if not years, ago would have dictated that the Landrieu campaign take a look at all the public records associated with his employment.
However, the campaign likely sat on the information for some time before presumably alerting the bloggers, for reasons of timing. Since the goal of the smear is to detach voters from Cassidy in a way that adds votes to Landrieu, it would do Landrieu no good if there was an alternative to her benefitting from that. In the primary, detached voters could avoid supplementing Landrieu’s totals relative to Cassidy by voting for Maness, however there would not be enough of them to keep Cassidy out of a runoff with her. But in a runoff, Landrieu benefits because either they end up voting for her or not at all; regardless, relatively she is better off, so why give up a weapon before its maximum potential effectiveness?
This is why the information was released only now – and right before the holidays just prior to the Dec. 6 election in order to afford Cassidy reduced ability to have his response heard but enough time to integrate the information into the inevitable Landrieu attack ads on the issue that will appear shortly and just before the Dec. 1 debate between the pair. It also permits her fellow travelers that infest the media time to digest the material with follow-up stories to keep the issue out there and to editorialize in uncomplimentary ways about him in the high-volume media consumption weekend preceding the debate and election.
In its construction, the Landrieu campaign’s narrative here has the basis to be effective. It relies upon a simplistic assertion, already being propagated, that “Cassidy may have taken home over $100,000 in taxpayer funds for work he never did”(right off the bat an extreme distortion, because records show on average he worked at least close to the number of hours required), while being able to distract from the realities of the situation. Academic work is difficult to quantify. For example, full-time Louisiana faculty members are required to put in 40 hours a week on their jobs. But, taking my service as an example, how much credit should I receive for an e-mail exchange with a student being advised? Or in grading a paper? Or when I am interviewed by the media or give a speech?
Cassidy says things he does in his teaching capacity he often was unable to quantify for record-keeping (such as distance instruction when he was communicating with students or reviewing work while in Washington), and correctly notes on days that he appeared in both Baton Rouge and Washington he did rounds in the mornings back home and then left for D.C. to cast votes later in the day. Both validly explain that he is giving taxpayers their money’s worth (and both he and LSU, records show, went to great lengths to make sure he was doing precisely that and to document this as best they could to ensure no impropriety would occur), but are hard to get across in sound bites.
Yet Landrieu’s and her Internet sycophants’ tactic will have just limited effectiveness for two reasons. One is that it runs counter to the prism through which Cassidy’s actions prior to elective office are interposed onto voters. For example, it’s hard to believe that a guy who with his wife voluntarily organized an entire medical relief effort during the hurricane disaster of 2005 would be out to shave a few bucks off of taxpayers. Indeed, Cassidy could very legitimately argue that he deliberately underreported work in order not to run afoul of the Congressional restriction on outside income, which would mean he couldn’t contribute to medical education at all.
The other is that Landrieu already got caught with her hand in the till in an attempt to bilk taxpayers out of their dollars by conducting campaign travel on the public’s dime, in order to save campaign funds for a reelection attempt she has found every bit as challenging as she feared. She already admitted guilt without taking responsibility, giving instead incredible excuses, and every time she mentions purported Cassidy malfeasance, the same kind of matter but in her case not allegation but verified by her own admission can be thrown right back at her. That makes the issue a push.
In short, this ploy will alter this election’s dynamics only marginally, and certainly not enough to change the outcome given the large disadvantage she suffers at this time.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:10