Dennis Persica: Leading or laughing out loud

By Dennis Persica

dpersica@theadvocate.com

“Landrieus lead in Louisiana.” That was the headline on a news release two weeks ago hyping the results of a Public Policy Polling survey that showed U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., with a 10-point lead over her leading potential challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Instead of the LLL headline — Landrieus lead in Louisiana — state Republicans were probably thinking “LOL,” as in laughing out loud. PPP is considered a Democratic-leaning outfit, and a 10-point lead seems unbelievable for someone in Landrieu’s situation.

Her seat has been on the Republican acquisition list since just about the last time she won re-election in 2008. Always caught in tight races and runoffs, Landrieu would be more vulnerable in the 2014 election, analysts reasoned, since there will not be a presidential race to draw more voters to the polls.

Even more importantly, they said, there will be no African-American presidential candidate at the top of the ticket to motivate black voters, a reliably Democratic bloc. If the race goes to a runoff, the enthusiasm gap works against her.

The trend is not Landrieu’s friend. She is the only statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana now. She and one senator each in Arkansas, North Carolina and Florida are the only Senate Democrats from states south of Virginia and east of New Mexico.

Even PPP says Landrieu’s big lead “is not likely to hold up.” It notes that Cassidy does not have great name recognition around the state, but that definitely will change.

If Republicans take this poll seriously, though, they have to consider it good news. As GOP Senate candidates become better known, their numbers can go nowhere but up. As Landrieu’s 10-point lead inevitably drops, she will appear to be fading, and many voters like to jump on the bandwagon that looks like it’s going to lead the parade and jump off the one that doesn’t.

Meanwhile, you’ll note that the headline said “Landrieus.” The same poll shows New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu leading U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, two Republicans, in separate surveys of the 2015 governor’s race.

The governorship has been the unattainable prize for politicians from inside the city limits, however. Mayor DeLesseps Morrison couldn’t win it in the 1960s. City Councilman Jimmy Fitzmorris won the lieutenant governor’s seat, a position later held by Mitch Landrieu, but failed at gaining the state’s top job in 1979. Mary Landrieu couldn’t win it either in 1995.

Politicians from just outside New Orleans have fared better with the governorship. There was Dave Treen and, in a way, Bobby Jindal.

Landrieu can take some solace in his statewide vote-getting prowess. He won a few more votes than Jindal in 2007 when Landrieu was running for lieutenant governor and Jindal for governor, the last time they were on the same ballot.

But the headwinds that Mary Landrieu is bucking also bedevil her brother, especially now that the Democratic powerhouse of New Orleans voters has been scattered by the winds of Katrina. The city has gained new residents since then, but will they register to vote? And will they vote Democratic?

Of course, Landrieu hasn’t said he wants to run for governor, and he still has another mayoral election before then.

The Senate and governor’s races are still a way off, November 2014 and October 2015, respectively. As the cliché goes, the only vote that matters is the one on Election Day. Only then will we know who’s leading, and laughing out loud.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column, he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.