This should have been a terrible week for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, her campaign for re-election and her never-ending quest to either change Louisianans’ hearts and minds about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, for which she provided a key yes vote, or to at least change the subject.
By now, Landrieu must have hoped to be winning over skeptical constituents who finally got to log onto the insurance exchange website and start shopping for options. She’d surely planned to step up her criticism of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hard-hearted decision not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid — thus excluding those not quite poor enough to qualify under current rules and not quite middle class enough to enter the exchanges — and to contrast their fate with those of Obamacare’s newly satisfied customers.
Instead, she’s spent much of the week on the defensive right alongside the president, over Obama’s inaccurate assurance that people who like their current insurance can keep it under the new law — even, the incorrect implication was, if it doesn’t meet new minimum standards for coverage.
To the obvious delight of establishment Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, whose campaign has sent out numerous emails on the subject, Landrieu used to echo that assurance, and she also joined a party line vote against a Republican amendment that would have allowed old plans to be grandfathered in even if the insurance companies made changes to them.
“Those individuals who like the coverage they already have will be able to keep their current plan,” said Landrieu on the floor of the Senate at the time. “This is a very accurate description of this bill before us.”
To contain the damage, Landrieu this week noted the president’s explicit promise and announced plans to file a bill to make it a reality.
So where’s the good news for Landrieu in all of this?
It’s on the Republican side, where her lead opponent is squirming, too.
This should have been a great week for Cassidy. Not only did he get to pounce on Landrieu’s troubles, but he also finally got the chance to move beyond the highly contentious shutdown, which was never really his fight, and refocus on the issues he wants to talk about.
Yet he too is suffering a steady drip of negative news. Campaign finance records show his fundraising is falling short of Landrieu’s, and of expectations for a major challenger to a vulnerable incumbent. Fellow Republicans like state Reps. Alan Seabaugh and Paul Hollis and state Sen. Elbert Guillory have been floating trial balloons, on the whispered grounds that Cassidy just isn’t the right guy to take on a three-term incumbent whose Democratic affiliation makes her a perennial target in this Republican-leaning state.
And a major PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, picked this week of all weeks to aim its fire not at Landrieu, but at Cassidy. The group, which boasts of having helped Tea Party favorites such as Texas’ Ted Cruz win contested GOP primaries, endorsed newcomer Rob Maness and sent out a fundraising email excoriating Cassidy for what it called “Obamacare hypocrisy.”
“Not only did Cassidy propose an Obamacare-lite plan in the state legislature, he’s also tried to take credit for federal grants awarded through the Obamacare program. All of this is making it harder for him to contrast himself with Democrat Mary Landrieu,” the email said.
This type of Republican infighting is new to Louisiana, where the Tea Party has often aligned with the conservative establishment, but it’s familiar to students of national politics, and it’s got some Republican mainstreamers panicked. A GOP civil war, they worry, could depress turnout or alienate swing voters enough to allow Landrieu to win outright in the primary. Or it could leave her with a weakened runoff opponent, one who has to appeal to a base that’s been told to mistrust him for over a year.
So yes, while it was a bad week for Landrieu, it could have been a lot worse. And for that, she can thank her enemies.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.