Political scientist analyzes Landrieu's prior Senate elections

Sen. Mary Landrieu on the ninth anniversary of Katrina (FOX 8 photo)
Sen. Mary Landrieu on the ninth anniversary of Katrina (FOX 8 photo)

Louisiana's U.S. Senate race is one of the tightest in the nation and in the world of political punditry, Sen. Mary Landrieu's bid for a fourth term remains mired in uncertainty.

"In essence, it's a statistical tie," said Ed Chervenak, Ph.D., a political scientist at the University of New Orleans.

Republican Bill Cassidy is viewed as Landrieu's most potent challenger in the race that is expected to be a nail-biter, and Dr. Chervenak analyzed how voting trends have changed since Landrieu was first elected in 1996.

Chervenak delved into post-election data, election results and voter registration rolls for the state. Looking at current voter registration, he calculated how Landrieu might fare in the percentage of vote this time based on the turnout rates and voter preference from her three previous elections.

In 1996, he said 65 percent of voters statewide were registered as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans and 14 percent as "other party/independent". Fast forward to 2014 and 47 percent are Democrats, 28 percent Republicans, and 25 percent have "other party/independent" affiliations.

"In 1996, two-thirds of registered voters were Democrats. Today less than half are registered Democrats. We've seen an upswing in Republican identification as well as independent identification, " he said.

He said a growing number of voters are turned off by the partisanship that has gripped Congress, and said Landrieu and Cassidy would do well to concentrate on what they will do to address the issues if elected.

"Democrats are viewed as the party of the past, and Republicans are engaged in this factional clash between the establishment of the party and the Tea Party, so that's turning a lot of people off," said Chervenak.

Whites, he said, have left the Democratic Party in Louisiana in droves, and while African-Americans in the state remain loyal to the state's Democratic Party, they're not as loyal as they were when Mary Landrieu was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

Chervenak said in 1996, 58 percent of white voters were registered Democrats and 86 percent of African-Americans were Democrats. Today, 79 percent of blacks are registered as Democrats in the state.

"There's a sense among some African Americans that the Democratic Party takes their vote for granted," said Chervenak.

Chervenak said Landrieu won 22 parishes the last three times she ran, and he suggests she will do the same this November.

However, he thinks 18 battleground parishes will ultimately decide the race.

"She needs to carry those because there are 24 parishes that's she not going to win, and so it's those middling where she's won once or twice - she needs to carry those parishes," he said.

In 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama was on the ballot as a presidential candidate, Landrieu carried Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. Chervenak said Obama was a magnet for many voters.

"She has traditionally not carried those parishes, but she did in 2008 and so she needs to do so again," he said.

But it is not an easy feat, he concedes, because the most frequent voters tend to be white and Republican.

At the moment, Landrieu also battles negative headlines.

"Residency, charging for flights to taxpayers rather than her campaign finance account," said Chervenak.

But he said Cassidy's campaign has flaws, too.

"The big knock against him is that he's running a retro campaign, a David Vitter redux campaign, basically calling out President Obama all the time. It's all about Obama as opposed to 'what can I do,'" said Chervenak.

But in terms of getting out the vote, it Landrieu who appears to have the biggest disadvantage.

"She needs young people, she needs minorities, she needs single women to turn out big time, which is something that they typically don't do in mid-term election," said Chervenak.

Six others remain on the ballot besides Landrieu and Cassidy, including Republican Rob Maness, whom Chervenak believes will be a factor in the race and will likely siphon away votes from Landrieu.

Chervenak said based on the aggregated data he looked at from Landrieu's previous races, if there is not much deviation in how the electorate behaves this election, she could eke out a win with about 50.9 percent of the vote.

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