Gerald Herbert/AP
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana (r.), Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) of Louisiana, and Republican candidate and Tea Party favorite Rob Maness (l.) participate in a Senate debate on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La., on Wednesday.

Did Mary Landrieu just insult the entire South? Actually, kinda.

Three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu's comment that 'the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans' is a common refrain among Southerners. But it could be an explosive claim to use as an excuse for not doing better at the polls.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana couched her comment about Democratic electoral troubles in Dixie as an uncomfortable truth: You know what they say about the South, dontcha? Well, it’s true.

“To be very, very honest with you, the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” she told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” as she explained opposition to her and President Obama on the campaign trail.

“It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader. It’s not always been a good place for women to present ourselves. It’s more of a conservative place, so we’ve had to work a little bit harder on that," she added.

Senator Landrieu's suggestion that some Louisiana voters are opposing her and President Obama because the New South is a lot like the Old South struck like a thunderbolt among conservatives. The extent to which the comment is ruled a gaffe could play a role in her neck-and-neck Senate race against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness, and thus in the broader electoral chess game that will determine whether Obama faces a Republican-led Congress for his final two years in office.

“Quite frankly, Sen. Landrieu owes the people of Louisiana an apology for relegating them to nothing but racists and sexists,” Mr. Maness said, in a statement Thursday evening.

An apology has not yet emerged. And we do see what the Louisiana-born Landrieu is getting at here.

The way she phrases her critique is actually a common refrain among Southerners of all stripes – the kind of hushed acknowledgement that, sure as the sunrise, there is certainly a strain of anti-Obama venom that ties into the region’s long history of racism. And, yep, it’s hard to deny that the South has always been a more patriarchal society than other regions – but more chivalrous, too, those who live here might argue. 

(As the Monitor's Peter Grier points out, it's hard to know the extent to which race actually plays a role at the ballot box. "Pollsters have found it almost impossible to accurately measure racial animus anywhere in America," Grier writes. "There’s a strong social incentive to conceal racial feelings from inquisitive interviewers.")

Her play to a debatable stereotype may become a problem for Landrieu, political analysts say, if only because race remains an uniquely explosive issue in American politics. Moreover, Landrieu criticized sexists in a state that elected a female senator named Landrieu to go to Washington, three times. 

Bottom line: It seems Landrieu does, even if unwittingly, criticize a lot of the same voters who hold her (and the broader party's) electoral fate in their hands come Tuesday. 

Will they take offense in numbers large enough to matter? That remains to be seen. Landrieu trails Congressman Cassidy by a hair, and the election is likely to require a December runoff.

At the very least, Cassidy argued Thursday night that the comments suggest that Landrieu has boldly misread her constituency.

“We’re not racist, we just have common sense,” he told Fox News.

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