By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
When Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) of Louisiana assumed the chairmanship of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee this year, it was a major boon to her difficult re-election campaign — placing her in a prominent position to aid her state’s oil and gas industry and strengthening her argument to voters that her seniority is an asset.
A new television ad released by Landrieu on Tuesday hammers that point, reintroducing the three-term Democrat as holding “the most powerful position in the Senate for Louisiana” and demonstrating her independence from the Obama administration — a recurrent theme in her red-state campaign where President Barack Obama has cast a long shadow.
Simultaneously distancing Landrieu from Washington while touting the benefits of her tenure in the Senate, the ad’s narrator argues that she “forced Washington to respect Louisiana.”
“The administration’s policies are simply wrong when it comes to oil and gas production in this nation,” Landrieu says in the opening news clip, shown on a television screen in a kitchen as a young couple washes dishes.
From there, the ad features a string of defiant statements by Landrieu on energy policy that have often set her apart from her Democratic colleagues, such as her criticism of the Interior Department moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill in 2010: “Nothing about this moratorium makes sense,” she says in the clip. “Nothing.”
Republican groups seized Tuesday on the Landrieu campaign’s decision to re-create her statements at a Senate hearing last year where she pressed for her state to get a greater share of federal energy royalties. “They have to sit here and listen to the federal government say we will not share a penny with you. I will not rest until this injustice is fixed,” she says in the ad’s re-enactment.
The statement tracks closely with a statement Landrieu made about two hours and 30 minutes into the original hearing last July, as first noted by the Weekly Standard. But campaign officials said they had to re-enact the moment because of a prohibition on using video shot by Senate cameras in a campaign ad or for other political purposes.
“We did it because Senate ethics rules say you have to,” Landrieu’s campaign manager, Adam Sullivan, said Tuesday. Brad Dayspring, the communications director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argued that the ad should have labeled the video as “a dramatization or re-enactment.”
The aggressive tone of Landrieu’s new ad mirrors that of her first ad last fall, which highlighted her legislative proposal to fix Obama’s health care law. Her campaign aired the ad after thousands of Louisiana residents received warnings that their health insurance policies would be canceled because they did not meet the new guidelines under the law.
As a key target in the Republican quest to win back the Senate, Landrieu faces two Republican opponents in the November election and must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The free-market advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has spent more than $3 million so far criticizing Landrieu’s support of the health care law. The Senate Majority PAC, in turn, has spent about $1.56 million on ads against her leading GOP opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy.
The Landrieu campaign has reserved more than $2 million in air time — a move that can lock in a lower rate at this early stage. The campaign is spending about $250,000 on the statewide ad buy this week as Louisianans head toward the Easter holiday. Landrieu had about $7.5 million in cash on hand at the end of the first quarter to Cassidy’s $5 million. (Figures were not available for the Republican challenger running next highest in polls.)
Energy interests have been among the most generous supporters of Landrieu’s campaigns. Between 2009 and 2014, the oil and gas industry was the second highest-ranking industry in contributions to Landrieu’s campaign committee and leadership PAC combined, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. (Landrieu often notes that the oil and gas industry directly or indirectly supports the jobs of about 300,000 people in her state — a fact prominently noted in her ad.)
The utility of her new post on the energy committee was evident last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin put her name on a short list of U.S. lawmakers and officials barred from entering Russia in the midst of the crisis over Ukraine. “I consider this a badge of honor,” Landrieu wrote on her Facebook page, adding that Putin’s action had encouraged her to “redouble my efforts to increase domestic energy production here in the United States and make the U.S. a global leader in energy exports.”
Highlighting another area of difference with the administration last week, she organized a group of Democratic senators — a number of them in tight re-election races — to send a letter to Obama urging him to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline and to announce a decision by May 31. Key Democratic activists have opposed the pipeline, which would carry crude from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries, while Republicans have been among its strongest supporters.
“This process has been exhaustive in its time, breadth, and scope. It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify,” Landrieu and her fellow senators wrote about federal reviews of the pipeline project.
Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT