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Clinton success may cause LA Dems' luck to run out

Louisiana Democrats have more to worry about that just electoral success of Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal. As many Democrats privately begin to worry about the effect that a Sen. Hillary Clinton nomination for the presidency in 2008 might have on other contests held that year, two of the most worried elected Democrats on that account should be Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Charlie Melancon.

Both have won two terms through good fortune. Landrieu initially scraped into office in 1996 when the national GOP ran a lackluster candidate and campaign and winner Pres. Bill Clinton had yet to commit a federal crime while in office to sully all Democrats. Her winning margin of fewer than 6,000 votes likely came from fraud but could not be legally proven as its source. In 2002, she added slightly to her total against a weak Republican challenger.

Melancon also got a lot of help his first time and a little more of it for his run for reelection. A divisive primary between two Republicans barely put Melancon into the general election runoff. The candidate barely out of the money, state Sen. Craig Romero, apparently decided that rather than support another Republican his best chance of eventually getting into Congress would be to wage a scorched-earth post-campaign against the other Republican to elect Melancon and then try to knock off Melancon in 2006. The first part worked but the second didn’t, as Melancon was aided by national fortunes swinging the Democrats’ way last year to defeat Romero.

But what comes around goes around, and Lady Luck dressed as Hillary Clinton might desert the only two white Democrats elected to federal office in Louisiana. With polling showing about half of Americans unwilling to vote for Clinton for president, her nomination would energize Republicans, drawing more than the typical number than without such a divisive opposition candidate. A majority of these extra voters likely will punch straight tickets, creating a disadvantage for down-ballot Democrats like Landrieu and Melancon.

Liberals dressed in moderates’ clothing, both know they have little margin for error in a state and district with which whose populations they are out of touch on the issues by and large. Clinton’s attempt to appear more moderate will fool few who remember her First Lady days and this will be imputed to Landrieu and Melancon, breaching the carefully-crafted shields of moderate political personas they have tried so hard to build.

Melancon may catch yet another break as this GOP advantage can work only with a good candidate, and none seems yet to have emerged. But quality Republicans seem ready to challenge Landrieu, and it would be ironic if the woman with whom she often votes on the same side next year will turn out to be the straw that breaks that back of Landrieu’s Senate career.

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