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Debate shows Kennedy has chance to make up ground

While polls show Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu holding a decent lead in her reelection bid against Republican Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy, she has been unable to gain a decisive advantage with public’s intended vote (which to some degree probably only reflected name recognition rather than real intent). She had a chance make progress towards that goal, and Kennedy an opportunity to work to closing the gap, at their Louisiana Public Broadcasting-sponsored debate Sunday night.

Landrieu’s strategy has been to assert she has some kind of “independence” from her party and ideology – despite the fact that she votes with it most of the time and has a lifetime 22.4 rating from the American Conservative Union (0 meaning a perfect liberal voting record – and trying to convince voters that Kennedy is shiftless. By the same token, Kennedy plays up her liberal votes and stresses a mix of conservative themes especially on fiscal issues while trying to demonstrate he has rethought some of his past preferences. In their debate, both candidates went after each others self-drawn perceptions.

On several occasions she touted how she was “independent,” that her “seniority” would benefit the state, how she had displayed “effectiveness,” and that she could work in a “bipartisan” manner – playing to the populist mentality in Louisiana where many see their elected officials as paraders throwing goodies off of floats. He refused to concede, such as describing her agreeing philosophically with Sen. Barack Obama’s nationalization of health care policy, or voting with Obama on the Democrat measure that would have forced withdrawal from Iraq, or that even as she is chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security responsible for disaster relief that her influence amounted to nothing in speeding up the ongoing recovery process from the 2005 hurricane disasters.

She tried to make him look hypocritical when possible, saying he had once favored the withdrawal (which he denied), or that he took money from interests from those appearing in front of the state’s Bond Commission which he heads. The latter was responding to Kennedy’s observing she had taken campaign contributions from financial entities that were alleged to have precipitated the mortgage-backed securities difficulties which prompted the huge bailout (with which both disagreed, although Kennedy faulted it for having too much government involvement while Landrieu found it short on government intervention).

However, Kennedy missed a real chance to take advantage of Landrieu on the broader question of what had caused the problem. Instead of challenging her call for more regulation when in fact it was too much government regulation and politics which set the stage for it, he also carelessly threw around phrases like “rich people” and “greed” instead of pointing out it was her own political party’s policies which caused the greatest damage and asking why she had stood idly by while Obama advisors of today had cooked books of government agencies to get fat bonuses and winked at lending laws force-feeding unstable loans into the system because it served their buddies and special interests.

But Kennedy had one advantage that Landrieu did not, and that was he could call upon plenty of examples from Landrieu’s tenure to buttress his arguments that she supported policies presumably out of step with the Louisiana public, while she had to make big stretches over small matters to try to criticize him, because he did not have an incumbent’s record like hers. All she could say is on some things he said one thing and now another, but he could point to her actual record in his criticisms.

And on those few things like the campaign contributions (an issue on which if there ever was the pot calling the kettle black, it was this) where she actually could refer to an act. Kennedy could trump her, such as by his constant refrain that “Washington is broken” and Landrieu had been there 12 years and had done nothing to reform it. (He could have done better when she claimed to be a reformer in refuting such as to point out her party had broken its promises over things like PAYGO and earmark reform when she talked about this and bringing home the bacon.)

The bad news for Kennedy is he must make up ground. The good news is it only is now that many voters are starting to pay attention to the Senate contest. Probably few watched the debate but if Kennedy can make this an ideological contest based on her record and has the campaign organization and resources to do it, he has a chance to break the long challenger losing streak for the Senate in Louisiana that is over 70 years old.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

In Kennedy's time he didn't have to worry about the crazy lending laws that we deal with today. Our financial crisis hinges on our poor lending tactics over the past several years.