Democrat Seen As Vulnerable In La. Senate Race

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) faces a tough re-election battle against Democrat-turned-Republican John Kennedy. John Maginnis, who writes the newsletter LaPolitics, says that in the western and northern parts of Louisiana, she is seen as a New Orleans Democrat.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This week, we're taking a look at some Senate races that are expected to be competitive in November. And today, Louisiana. It's the one state where an incumbent Democrat is seen as vulnerable. That Democrat is Mary Landrieu. She's a moderate in her second term and she has a powerful family name. Her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans and her brother, Mitch, is Louisiana's lieutenant governor. Her opponent is Republican John Kennedy. He is the state treasurer, and he recently switched parties to become a Republican.

We're joined from Baton Rouge by John Maginnis, who writes the newsletter LaPolitics. John, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JOHN MAGINNIS (Writer, LaPolitics): Glad to be here, Melissa.

BLOCK: And help us understand why Mary Landrieu's in trouble this year.

Mr. MAGINNIS: Well, you know, she's got everything going for her or should. She has twice as much money. She's seen as a centrist. She's done a lot of - she has a good record as a - in the recovery at getting things for Louisiana. And she's got a...

BLOCK: Recovery after Katrina you're talking about?

Mr. MAGINNIS: That's right, and Rita. But the polls show this race, they are fairly close. And I think I attribute a lot of that to - it's just a built-in resistance to Mary Landrieu. The further away you go from New Orleans, the more problems she has because she's seen as a New Orleans Democrat and that still doesn't go over in western and all the parts of the state, where polls showed Kennedy leading.

BLOCK: Would New Orleans, then, be the base of Mary Landrieu's support typically?

Mr. MAGINNIS: Oh, absolutely. That's where she's from. That's where she's always got her biggest vote in the past. And now it's a question of how many of those voters are still there after Katrina. The estimate so far is that maybe there's been a net loss of 50,000 more Democrats than Republicans. And that may not mean much in an election where two million people are going to vote, but 50,000 votes was Mary Landrieu's margin of victory in our last election.

BLOCK: Well, Mary Landrieu's running a TV ad. You see John Kennedy campaign buttons flipping across the table. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of TV political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: Look out, spinning and flipping. John Kennedy - ran for attorney general as a Democrat and lost. Ran for governor and quit. Ran for Senate, and conservatives called Kennedy a liberal Democrat. He loses. Kennedy…

BLOCK: I'm trying to figure out who Mary Landrieu's appealing to with this ad.

Mr. MAGINNIS: I think she's just trying to make fun out of John Kennedy and show that he's a kind of a flake or that he doesn't have strong convictions. I don't know how well that's really going to hit home in Louisiana because it's not unheard of in state politics for candidates to change parties even on the day they qualify or while they're in office. So I don't know that that's something that people are really going to hold against John Kennedy.

BLOCK: There's a John Kennedy ad running. There, you see him walking to work, carrying a brown bag, lunch, he bends down and picks up a penny off the ground. Here's a bit of that.

(Soundbite of TV political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: While some politicians spend money like it's going out of style, one leader is so tight, he squeaks. His wise investments earned Louisiana taxpayers $1.4 billion. His frugal debt management…

BLOCK: So is this John Kennedy, the fiscal conservative?

Mr. MAGINNIS: Yes. And this is his first commercial and - he's trying to, you know, introduce himself at people who don't know him. I think he's running against Washington, that's a lot of his message, and that he wants to introduce more fiscal conservative into government.

BLOCK: Now, in the presidential race, polls there in Louisiana show John McCain with a double-digit lead. How much of a factor do you think that'll be in the Senate race?

Mr. MAGINNIS: Well, it could be a tricky situation for Mary Landrieu. She has endorsed Obama. And as a host in a fundraiser, a co-host in a fundraiser in Washington, she has to rely on a large number of voters kind of split in their vote, voting for - to put McCain in the White House and to keep her, you know, on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

You know, the Democrats and the Republicans are a lot closer in Louisiana than they are on a national scene. So I think she's trying to take advantage of that with state voters. And a lot of state voters understand that, but there's a lot others who, you know, they're not happy with Washington and this is a vote to vote against it.

BLOCK: Well, John Maginnis, thanks a lot.

Mr. MAGINNIS: Glad to do it, Melissa. Thank you.

BLOCK: John Maginnis writes the newsletter LaPolitics. He spoke with us from Baton Rouge.

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