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Electoral considerations likely to land Alito Landrieu's vote

The upcoming vote on the confirmation of U.S. Appellate Court Judge Samuel Alito presents a hard choice for Sen. Mary Landrieu, and either option could spell her political doom.

Landrieu must realize that Alito will be confirmed. Senate Democrats should understand the magnanimity of moderate Republican senators has run out on this Supreme Court nominee and any attempted filibuster would send the GOP centrists to support a rule change that would disallow filibusters of judicial nominees. In addition, at least one Senate Democrat moderate has pledged to cross up Democrat leadership and to support Alito.

Therefore, Landrieu’s vote has become merely symbolic, with costs and benefits going both ways. Pre-hurricanes, she showed a selective, maybe even nuanced, behavior towards controversial nominees. She voted against U.S. Appellate Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, perhaps figuring that black Democrat leaders could not countenance a favorable vote even if whites largely supported her as did a significant portion of blacks, since she needs those leaders’ political machines in the state. She voted against U.S. Appellate Court Judge William Pryor as well, but voted for U.S. Appellate Court Judge Priscilla Owen, perhaps as Owen was more “local” (from Texas, even if Pryor was from the South), less demonized by black Democrats, and female, to give Landrieu some ammunition to garner more conservative support in the state since it was clear Owen’s would go through (after all, 1 out of 3 often wins you a batting championship in the major leagues). And she did vote for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

She likely will apply the same logic to the Alito vote, mindful of the changed election dynamics in the state. By 2008, her base still may be disproportionately eroded courtesy of the hurricane disasters, and the ultra-liberal (even as she tries to disguise it) probable top of the Democrat ticket also may cost her votes. At the same time, she cannot compete against a quality, genuine conservative GOP challenger by deliberately throwing an Alito confirmation vote the way of the majority conservative voters in the state.

At this point, the Senate Democrats’ leaders only reason to try to get as many votes against Alito would be as a campaign issue, precisely the motivation for Landrieu. As evidenced by the pontificating tone and irrelevant comments of Democrats on and the exact split down party lines in the committee vote, they place great store in trying to preserve as close to unanimity as possible their opposition. At the same time, Democrat leaders have released party members from the obligation of voting with it, meaning no sanctions will be levied on members who vote to confirm.

With the GOP bullpen of viable statewide genuine conservative candidates for Senate for the moment sparse (its strongest pick by far interested in the Governor’s Mansion) and with the Democrat presidential stakes trending towards the opposite ideology, Landrieu probably can be assured to hold onto much of her liberal base while trying to demonstrate moderate tendencies by tossing a vote Alito’s way. But this may backfire if the state Republicans find a quality conservative to challenge her in 2008 and somehow in a rare moment of Democrat lucidity somebody less liberal snares the presidential nomination, for Landrieu’s solid liberal credentials, out of touch with the state’s majority’s interests, will appear more obvious than ever.

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