What was Mary Landrieu thinking?
That’s the punditocracy’s response to news that the Democratic senator doesn’t own a domicile in her own state of Louisiana. She and her husband own a $2.5 million house on Washington’s Capitol Hill, and she lists her parents’ home in New Orleans as her Pelican State pied-à-terre, according to The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, who broke the story with a detailed report.
Senator Landrieu is facing a tough reelection fight this fall. She’s an experienced political warrior who won her seat in a close election in 1996 and squeaked out a narrow reelection victory in 2002. She surely knows that Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana was defeated in 2012 in part because of reports that he lived in hotels when visiting the state he represented in Washington. Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas is in trouble right now for claiming the home of a donor as his Kansas residence.
“No easier way to tag an incumbent as out of touch than finding a residency controversy,” tweeted newly named “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd.
Her husband, Frank Snellings, is a Coldwell Banker associate in Washington. So ignorance of the intricacies of real estate is not an excuse.
Will this matter on Election Day?
It sure could. Her opponents will do all they can to keep this in the news, including bringing a legal case to try to get her kicked off the ballot because in their view, she does not really live in Louisiana.
Right now, the Louisiana Senate race leans Republican, according to major forecasters. There’s a 60 percent chance the GOP candidate, most likely Rep. Bill Cassidy, takes the seat in November, according to “The Upshot” election prediction calculations at The New York Times.
The comparable figure for The Washington Post’s “Election Lab” is 56 percent odds of a GOP victory.
But two things weigh in Landrieu’s favor here. The first is her last name. Her family has deep roots in state politics: Her father, “Moon” Landrieu, was a legendary New Orleans City Council member and mayor. Her parents still live in the house where she grew up – the one she's calling home. In that sense, it’s not quite as ridiculous as living in a Marriott or the house of somebody who’s supporting her campaign. It’s less likely she’ll be judged as someone who’s gone native in the nation’s capital.
Plus, the timing could have been worse. Louisiana has a distinctive electoral system (of course – it’s a distinctive state). On Nov. 4, all US Senate candidates from both parties will participate in a single “jungle” primary. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, a likely occurrence, the top two vote-getters will proceed to a Dec. 6 runoff.
This means the expected Landrieu-Cassidy showdown won’t actually occur until it’s almost the holiday season. From a Republican point of view, it would have been better for news about Landrieu’s home question to break just before the final ballot, giving her less time to respond and ensuring it remains uppermost in voters’ minds.
Landrieu may lose anyway. But if she does, it may well be due to President Obama’s low job approval rating among Louisiana voters and a general rightward drift in the state, as much as where she hangs her laptop bag at home.