Mary Landrieu defeat widens party, racial divide in the South

By a wide margin, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana lost her reelection bid to Rep. Bill Cassidy Saturday, strengthening the GOP’s position in the Senate and confirming the widening racial divide in the South regarding party affiliation and elections.

Gerald Herbert/AP
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., hugs supporters after conceding defeat in her Senate runoff election against Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014.

Mary Landrieu’s thumping in a Louisiana run-off election Saturday has many lessons for Democrats, none of them happy.

It strengthens Republicans’ grip on the US Senate, increasing their majority to 54 seats – nine more than they had before last month’s mid-term election – which also gives them a better hand in 2016 when more GOP senators up for reelection will be vulnerable (as were Democrats this year).

Saturday’s voting also boosted the GOP’s grip on the US House to at least 246 seats. As the AP points out, this gives Republicans a commanding majority that matches the party's post-World War II high during Democratic President Harry S. Truman's administration.

The election also confirms the extreme difficulty D’s now have in winning (or holding on to) elected positions in the South.

Here’s a stark snapshot from Politico: “In 1962, every senator and an overwhelming majority of House members from the South was a Democrat. Next year, Democrats will control 39 of 149 Southern congressional seats, fewer than at any time since Reconstruction. The GOP won each of the seven governor’s races in the South this year as well, padding majorities in state legislatures across the region.”

It matters not that Sen. Landrieu aligned herself with Republicans on a key issue – the Keystone XL pipeline. Her support of Obama administration programs – especially the Affordable Care Act – more than outweighed that. Much more.

Landrieu’s defeat at the hands of US Rep. Bill Cassidy confirms the widening racial divide in the South regarding party affiliation and elections.

During Louisiana’s open primary vote last month, Landrieu’s 42 percent tally (which forced the run-off for the three-term incumbent) included just 18 percent of the white vote, according to exit polls. Here too, Obama weighed down Landrieu’s increasingly desperate attempt to hold on to her Senate seat: 73 percent of white voters polled in November said they “strongly disapproved” of Obama.

US House delegations across nine states stretching from the Carolinas to Texas are divided almost entirely by race, with white Republicans representing majority-white districts, while majority non-white districts are represented by black or Hispanic Democrats, according to the AP.

In the end, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee cut its losses, canceling TV ads it had scheduled for Landrieu. With outside help from groups like American Crossroads, Freedom Partners, and the National Rifle Association, Rep. Cassidy outspent Landrieu in the run-off.

Campaigning for Cassidy were Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, former Sen. Rick Santorum, neurologist Ben Carson, and Sen.-elect Joni Ernst. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush helped raise campaign cash.

In the end, it wasn’t close. Cassidy beat Landrieu 56-44 percent. Early voting turnout was overwhelmingly white and Republican. Stats blog FiveThirtyEight put her chance of losing at 99.8 percent.

Politico accurately summed up Saturday’s election in Louisiana (and its broader import) in just five words: “Dems' final insult: Landrieu crushed.”

Landrieu's defeat is a blow for one of Louisiana's most famous political families, leaving her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to carry the banner.

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