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Kennedy, not Landrieu, best positioned to win in 2008

As the 2008 Senate race in Louisiana seems to be off and running, initial indications are that Democrat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a serious challenge from Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy and to think her odds at this point of reelection are better than even ignores political reality.

Kennedy’s declaration of candidacy allows him to start raising money to catch Landrieu, even as he has tried to spend generically from his Treasurer’s campaign account to build support. (State law prohibits transfer of campaign money from state to federal contests and vice-versa.) It seems to have worked, so far: Kennedy commissioned a poll from one of the premier national pollsters to find he led Landrieu 45-38 percent. It’s early, but an incumbent with those numbers is not in good shape.

But Kennedy’s initial matchup probably won’t feature Landrieu. With the switch from the blanket to closed primary system for federal elections, he’ll likely have competition for the GOP nomination, perhaps from Sec. of State Jay Dardenne although Dardenne’s recent injuries and projected extended recovery time might have him reconsider – that and Kennedy has a lot of momentum going for himself. Still, it is unlikely that he would go unchallenged.

For the GOP primary, Kennedy will have to satisfactorily answer a couple of concerns. First, when he ran for the Senate in 2004, he went off on a bizarrely liberal direction on several issues; he will have to give convincing explanations concerning these departures from conservative orthodoxy. Second, recent financial problems at the state’s insurer of which he as Treasurer sits as one of several board members will draw questions about his (among the many others) inattentiveness to the matter; Kennedy will have to demonstrate a mixture of contriteness and extenuating circumstances to allay concerns.

If he can accomplish these things to win the nomination, he then is in an excellent position to draw a very flattering comparison to Landrieu. For example, as Treasurer, Kennedy got behind popular programs such as unclaimed funds reimbursement, and he became known as a fiscal watchdog ready to challenge spending priorities at odds with what was good for the state.

For eight years four years prior to Kennedy’s initial election to the job, that office was held by none other that Landrieu, who did … absolutely nothing and, worse, let the good times roll without dissent as the state plunged into debt. (Kennedy worked for former Gov. Buddy Roemer during the first part of her reign in that position who encouraged some of this, but at least he can claim he was bound to do what his boss wanted in terms of policy why Landrieu was completely free to do as she liked.)

Also, Landrieu has required quite a reputation for supporting spending in nonsensical ways, earning national condemnation with some of her choices potentially contributing to New Orleans having been less prepared to stave off something like the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Finally, even as Kennedy must explain some of his past liberal positions, Landrieu “out-liberals” Kennedy by a longshot on a variety of issues that will not make her popular among Louisiana voters if these are publicized to show she is more a friend of Washington Democrats than to the state.

Finally, electoral dynamics will work against her, one past, one future. In about a month I’ll be presenting some research at a professional meeting (more about that in the future) with part of it demonstrating that, by actual votes cast, Democrats lost a net 48,000 or so voters statewide for 2007 as a result of Katrina. Considering that in 1996 Landrieu barely (as best we can tell despite widespread allegations of fraud) defeated a state senator who is now in political obscurity and in 2002 by not many more votes even as an incumbent beat a weak holder of a now-abolished statewide office, Kennedy is clearly the toughest challenger she has yet to meet – in a less-favorable election environment than ever.

And this analysis does not factor in perhaps the biggest negative that could happen to her in Louisiana – if Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democrat presidential nominee. That seems likely and Kennedy and anybody else running in the general election will relentlessly use very opportunity to tie Landrieu in with Clinton who would lose the state by a bigger margin than Democrats did in 2004, dragging down Landrieu and other Democrats on state ballots.

At this point, if there’s anybody that could be considered a favorite in this contest, it would have to be Kennedy, not Landrieu.

1 comment:

The Deplorable Old Bulldog said...

Let's hope so.

Mary just hasn't aged well has she.

I cannot imagine the Dems remaining too popular in Louisiana.