Senator Mary Landrieu fights a political red tide in her quest for re-election

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, hugs a ninth ward resident on Aug. 29, the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, hugs a ninth ward resident on Aug. 29, the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Closed since Katrina's storm surge put it underwater, the Louisiana Nature Center in eastern New Orleans is taking its first steps toward rebuilding.

Senator Mary Landrieu, joining Friday in a ceremonial planting of cypress trees there, reminded the audience she was an early supporter of the natural center.

Her comments were part of a theme on the nine year anniversary of the storm, a day of frenzied activity for the Senator, who hopped from one event to another in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

"This country cannot give up," Landrieu said in an interview, stressing the job of Katrina and Rita recovery is not done.

"We cannot give up and city and parish has to redouble its efforts."

Landrieu, who never enjoys an easy re-election, is locked in another fight for her political life against demographic trends and a red tide of Republicanism sweeping the state.

"You would think the incumbent is going in very powerful," said Tulane University political analyst Mike Sherman, "but keep in mind, we're in a very red state right now."

Since Landrieu was first elected in 1996, Louisiana has shifted from a toss-up state in national politics that went twice for Bill Clinton for President, to a Republican stronghold.

"Mary Landrieu is really the last Democrat to confront a state that has shifted entirely Republican," Sherman said.

Louisiana has a long tradition of power Congressmen and Senators, with names such as Boggs and Long.

Landrieu's strategy aims to convince voters her experience has value in seniority-conscious Washington, DC.

At every opportunity, she reminds reporters and audiences that she co-sponsored GOMESA, the law that will provide Louisiana its first significant share of federal offshore revenue.

The Republican Jindal administration estimates the law should eventually deliver about $175 million annually for coastal restoration and protection efforts, starting in 2017.

"It's very difficult to translate those arguments that work inside the beltway to voters across a state like Louisiana over a thousand miles from Washington, DC.," Sherman said. "Mary Landrieu is very much trying to do that."

While Landrieu insists her chairmanship of the Senate Energy Committee translates into jobs in energy-rich Louisiana, her opponents have tried to shoot holes in her argument.

"It is a measure of her clout, or lack thereof, that she could not get a vote on Keystone XL pipeline," said Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, noting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has blocked a vote on the controversial project in the full Senate.

Cassidy and Republican Rob Maness have both sought to tie Landrieu to President Obama, who lost Louisiana handily two years ago, and especially to Landrieu's vote for the Affordable Care Act.

"It was a government attempt to address those issues, not a free market and free enterprise attempt," Maness said. "Government attempts don't work in this country."

Landrieu said she stands by her vote, but insisted she would like to improve the law.

"I did it, not because President Obama asked me to do it," Landrieu said. "I did it for the 800,000 people in this state that didn't have access to insurance."

Landrieu tells audiences, "It's not my clout in Washington, it's Louisiana's clout."

The outcome of the election could rest on whether that argument still resonates with voters in a state that has changed.

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