LEESVILLE, LA (WVUE) - Virtually no one expects incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu to carry places like Vernon Parish in her bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.
In 2012, Barack Obama managed just 20 percent of the vote there. However, the last time Landrieu was on the ballot in 2008, she pulled in 40 percent.
Facing her toughest challenge yet, Landrieu stopped in Leesville Tuesday to remind locals of her Senate work, including, by the campaign's count, $1 billion over the past 10 years for Fort Polk.
"We've saved Fort Polk from closure decade after decade," Landrieu told reporters after speaking to 150 people in the group Fort Polk Progress.
Landrieu's pitch follows the campaign strategy aimed at convincing voters - in usually Republican territory - that her seniority trumps other factors. The sprawling U.S. Army training center also ranks as the largest single federal employer in Louisiana
"Well, it means everything to Leesville," said local resident Kimberley Jones. "Leesville wouldn't be here without Fort Polk."
While booms and busts have been a part of life at Fort Polk, Pentagon budget cuts threaten to eliminate 6,500 active duty troops stationed there.
"That's going to bring us down to just a ghost town, basically," said Ranelle Birmingham, who is among the local residents who have fought to save the fort through an intense lobbying effort.
Both Landrieu and Bill Cassidy, the Baton Rouge congressman perceived as her main challenger, blame the so-called sequestration for the threat. Under a 2012 law, the sequester triggers automatic budget cuts unless the House and Senate agree to a budget deal. While the cuts were once thought to be so draconian they would force an alternative, compromise in gridlocked Washington, D.C. has prevented an agreement.
"We have to repeal sequester," said Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ) campaigning Monday for Cassidy in Covington. "It's already damaged our military very badly."
By 2019, Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno warned Congress recently, the service could be forced to reduce its ranks to 420,0000 soldiers, a cut of of 100,000 active military personnel. Cassidy argues the problem lies in the Senate, which he says failed to act after the House passed two budgets to stop the automatic cuts.
"When Senator Landrieu says she will vote for Harry Reid's re-election as the Senate Majority Leader, she's essentially saying that we keep sequestration," Cassidy said.
Landrieu rejected the argument Tuesday, insisting the problem is not as simple as Reid or his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell.
"It's about gridlock in Washington," Landrieu said. "It's about having a senator that's worked through the gridlock to deliver for this state."
Washington gridlock and tight budgets would seem likely talking points when Landrieu, Cassidy and Tea Party favorite Rob Maness meet Tuesday night in a statewide debate on Louisiana Public Broadcasting.