Control of the United States’ upper chamber in 2014 rests in the hands of just a few states. Perhaps no state is more integral in this cycle than Louisiana. Yet to analyze Louisiana’s 2014 Senate election as yet another “Democrat in a state that Mitt Romney carried in 2012” is too base an analysis. The Louisiana race is different for three reasons: incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu and the multitude of obstacles she poses for any opponent, the cloudy Republican field and a host of various unique issues that make this election very different from those elsewhere in the country.
From an outsider’s perspective, Sen. Landrieu’s past two reelections in 2002 and 2008 seem perplexing. Yet, adequate explanation of the political character Mary Landrieu does not begin with her, but rather with her father Maurice “Moon” Landrieu. Moon Landrieu was one of only two white mayors of New Orleans elected after the Civil Rights movement — more on the second one a bit later. Landrieu spent the 1960’s in various posts of New Orleans government and was perhaps the most vocal white supporter in the state of civil rights. In his mayoral election, an unprecedented 99 percent of blacks voted for Landrieu. Landrieu appointed one of the most racially diverse governments of any major city in the country at the time, oversaw the development of the Louisiana Superdome and preserved many of the downtrodden historical areas of New Orleans that are now the city’s most popular attractions. The name Landrieu became synonymous with royalty in Louisiana. In 2010, New Orleans elected Mooon’s son, Mitch Landrieu, as mayor, with sweeping support from the black community, showing again the extent to which the Landrieu name resonates in the city.
Although Sen. Mary Landrieu claims to be a blue dog Democrat — a term particularly endearing to its originators, Louisiana voters —, a quick scan of her voting record in the 2008-2014 term shows that she has become largely unrepresentative of largely accepted positions of Louisianians. Her yearly NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) rating has bounced between 90 and 100 percent; Louisiana has an F rating from NARAL, and is the only state with a “trigger ban” on abortion that states abortion will be criminalized upon the eventuality that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Sen. Landrieu was the 60th — that is, final — vote on the 2010 health care reform bill, otherwise known as Obamacare, which 63 percent of Louisiana voters oppose, and which 53 percent strongly oppose. Additionally, she holds a favorable view of same-sex marriage, even as Louisiana defined marriage constitutionally as a commitment between a man and woman; the constitutional amendment passed with 78 percent of the vote.
Sen. Landrieu benefits not only from a strong minority base and a particularly popular family of politicians, but also from national support. She has been able to successfully market herself as one of the “red state Dems” with the best chance of reelection because of her personal brand, as well as the plethora of federal benefits she has drawn in to Louisiana. These pieces of successful (and unsuccessful) legislation, as well as Sen. Landrieu’s challengers will be discussed in Parts II and III of this series.
—Tristan Bagala is a freshman studying international affairs
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