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Mary Landrieu’s Loss And The End Of Ticket Splitting

By Stuart Rothenberg, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s defeat in the Dec. 6 runoff certainly was no surprise. If anything, it seemed inevitable since the evening of Nov. 4, when it became clear a Republican rout was underway and Democrats would lose control of the Senate.

But the veteran Democrat’s defeat is another reminder we have entered a period of parliamentary elections, where the parties stand for starkly different ideological agendas and where ticket-splitting, which follows from individual evaluations apart from party, is relatively rare.

In the end, the “Landrieu brand” in Louisiana did not matter any more than the Pryor brand mattered in Arkansas or the Begich brand mattered in Alaska. Party labels mattered far more than the individual names of the candidates. Voters in all three states saw the incumbents’ Democratic label, and that made their decisions easy.

I wrote about this dynamic in a column in March 2011, but I wasn’t entirely sure whether the trend, which I called “increasingly partisan nature of American voting,” would continue. It has.

The new reality of congressional campaigns doesn’t mean candidates can’t ever swim against the national tide. Some will, because each election cycle, and each race, is different. But political reporters and handicappers must now evaluate individual contests within the context of our increasingly ideological politics.

The defeat of more pragmatic Democrats — particularly in the South, but nationally as well — makes parliamentary voting more likely in the years ahead, just as the disappearance of more liberal Republicans has. The more each party is seen as representing an uncompromising ideology and certain constituencies, the more straight-ticket voting we will see.

The Democratic Party has become defined as the party of Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Al Franken of Minnesota, just as the GOP has become defined as the party of Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Because of this, partisan voters in blue states will be increasingly hesitant to elect Republicans to the Senate, just as partisan voters in red states will be more and more reluctant to send Democrats to the Senate.

Of course, both parties still have a handful of more moderate senators — North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Maine Republican Susan Collins are obvious examples — as well as more pragmatic ideologues (for example, New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell).

But increasingly, the parties have followed ideological agendas that more often than not define their members. The growth of ideological media, both on cable television and the Internet, has added to this political polarization.

The change in our parties and our politics created particular problems for Landrieu this time, since she always based her re-election strategy on turning out liberal African-Americans and getting enough support from moderates and whites in the business community. As my colleague Nathan Gonzales noted at the end of September and again two days after the elections, Landrieu has had a terrible time with whites, and particularly white men, this cycle.

But if the Louisiana senator’s defeat demonstrated a long-term trend over which she had little or no control, the campaign also was a poster child of what is wrong with today’s campaigns.

Over the past few cycles, the party committees and many campaigns have embraced the notion of the permanent campaign. Campaigns begin the day after elections and campaign rhetoric and messaging that once built slowly over time now lasts for at least a year and a half. Everything and anything is campaign fodder, no matter how little impact it may have on the voters and no matter how ridiculous the rhetoric.

The Landrieu campaign, along with help from the Louisiana Democratic Party, was perhaps the best example of this. I am still not convinced that the folks in Landrieu’s press operation weren’t paid by the number of releases they sent out.

The press releases clearly had little impact on voters. Nobody cared about newspaper endorsements in the race or about what an Indiana Democratic senator thought about Landrieu’s performance in the Senate. The November elections and last week’s balloting make that abundantly clear.

Yet, I’m not optimistic that other campaigns will take the hint and substitute quality for sheer quantity.

Most of the things that campaigns do have little or no effect on the outcomes of their races. I only wish that most campaigns — and all journalists — would remember that.
(Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. Read more on the Rothenblog,

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

Democrats Are All But Extinct In The South

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The ailing Democratic Party, its stature as a national party teetering, appears poised to be staggered again Saturday if underdog Sen. Mary Landrieu loses her bid for re-election as expected in Louisiana.

The likely win by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in a runoff election would complete a near-sweep this year of Southern Senate seats and governorships, in ten of the 11 states of the old Confederacy. The Democrats’ only victory was in Virginia, where Sen. Mark Warner barely survived a stunning surge by Republican Ed Gillespie.

The Louisiana race is emblematic of the trouble Democrats faced in 2014 and are likely to confront for years. The party is widely regarded in the South as “hostile and indifferent” to the interests of white working-class voters, said Merle Black, a Southern politics expert at Emory University.

Landrieu, a three-term senator, won 42 percent in the Nov. 4 election. Cassidy got 41 percent, and conservative Rob Maness won 14 percent. Because no one got a majority, the top two finishers vie in Saturday’s runoff.

November’s exit polls illustrate Landrieu’s challenge. Four of five Louisiana voters were worried about the economy, and Landrieu won only 38 percent of the ones who were. She barely got one of five white votes, about two-thirds of the electorate, and 94 percent of the black vote.

Those patterns were repeated throughout the South. In nine other Southern states with Senate race exit polls, Warner did the best among whites, winning 37 percent. Five Southern Democrats got 22 percent or less.

A Landrieu loss would be the latest blow to Democrats. Other than Virginia, only Florida has a Democratic senator or governor, once Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe retires in January. Sen. Bill Nelson was re-elected to a third term in 2012.

Part of the Republican success results from the uniqueness of 2014. Incumbents in three Southern states where President Barack Obama was unpopular were up for re-election, and they were hobbled by their voting records. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), who lost last month, had the worst party-line record — and he had still sided with Obama 90 percent of the time last year.

The Democratic record included support for the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which Republicans touted as the latest Democratic intrusion into private lives as well as the party’s yen for big, expensive government.

This year’s Democratic stumbles were the latest chapter in a drama that’s been building for 50 years. Democrats had a stranglehold on the “Solid South” through the 1960s. But as President Lyndon B. Johnson famously said after he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”

The big shift came in the 1980s. Many black voters had been longtime Republican allies, a carryover from the post-Civil War-era days, when the party championed civil rights while Democrats ruled the segregated South. President Dwight Eisenhower won 39 percent and 32 percent of the black vote in his presidential bids in 1952 and 1956.

Though non-Southern Democrats joined Northeastern and Midwestern Republicans to push civil rights legislation, the Democratic Party became identified as more sympathetic to social change, thanks to the leadership of Johnson and President John F. Kennedy. More conservative and moderate whites became more loyal to Republicans.

By the 1980s, the civil rights issue had taken a different turn, and Democrats were the party of affirmative action and big government. President Ronald Reagan wooed conservatives, particularly in the South, with his strong anti-big-government rhetoric. Reagan won 9 percent of the black vote in 1984; no Republican presidential candidate since has won more than 12 percent.

Democrats tended to continue ruling the South’s state and local governments, but as those officeholders left, Republicans replaced them. The party built a farm team of candidates who had begin reaching Congress and statehouses by the 1990s.

Among the class of 2014, Arkansas Sen.-elect Tom Cotton and Louisiana’s Cassidy are members of the U.S. House of Representatives. North Carolina Sen.-elect Thom Tillis is the speaker of the North Carolina House. Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott is the state’s attorney general, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is a former congressman.

If the South’s Republicans didn’t ascend, they switched parties. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama was elected as a Democrat in 1986 and became a Republican in 1994 after being outraged by President Bill Clinton’s support for higher taxes.

“We were never national Democrats,” he recalled. “Democrats claimed us, but we voted conservative. We voted for Republicans, so it made sense to switch parties.”

Some Republicans, well aware of the volatile nature of voters, warn that while the party has momentum, it can’t declare a lock on the South. They caution that this year’s Republican Southern triumph was very much the result of Obama’s deep unpopularity.

“This is not necessarily people voting for us. People want a change,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-AR).

Former South Carolina Gov. James Hodges, a Democrat, predicted that candidates who can separate themselves from the national Democratic Party might rise again.

“Instead of trying to sell the Democratic brand,” he said, “they need to sell themselves.”

That’s getting harder, because Democrats can’t escape the brand. As Black put it, “Democrats are not viewed as representing the interests of the middle class and working class in the South.”

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

Louisiana Runoff Looks Increasingly Grim For Landrieu

Although it has been overshadowed by the uproar over President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, the unrest gripping Ferguson, Missouri, and the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s still a Senate race going on in Louisiana. On December 6, Pelican State voters will decide whether to grant a fourth term to Democratic senator Mary Landrieu, or replace her with Republican congressman Bill Cassidy. And with less than a week to go, things look very ominous for the incumbent.

Landrieu won a narrow plurality in the general election, topping Cassidy and right-wing Republican Rob Maness, 43 to 41 and 14 percent. Because nobody won a 50 percent majority, Landrieu and Cassidy advanced to a head-to-head runoff, which the Republican appears to be dominating.

Polls suggest that Cassidy has healthy double-digit lead in the runoff race. He’s also greatly outpacing Landrieu on the airwaves. While Republican-aligned outside groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are still stacking money behind Cassidy’s cause, most major Democratic groups have abandoned Landrieu. According to The Washington Post, pro-Cassidy forces are on pace to spend about 100 times as much as Landrieu’s allies.

That leaves the senator with very few opportunities to shake up the race, although she hasn’t stopped searching for ways to do so. Landrieu tried and failed to pass a measure mandating the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, in an effort to further differentiate herself from President Obama. And she has sharpened her campaign ads, accusing Cassidy of being a bumbling fool, and warning that President Obama will be impeached if Cassidy wins. But if early voting numbers are any indication, her efforts are falling short.

As The Times-Picayune reports:

About 85,900 registered Republicans took advantage of early voting for the Dec. 6 runoff, which was held during the week leading up Thanksgiving, as well as Saturday. That’s almost 3,000 more than the number of people who voted early for the Nov. 4 election, and it amounts to a 4 percent bump in early voting overall from a month ago.

The jump in early Republican voters is noteworthy, given that early voting overall dropped by 10 percent from the November primary to the December runoff. The number of registered Democrats who voted early fell even further — about an 18 percent decrease — from the primary to the runoff, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s office.

That’s not the only bad news for Landrieu. The biggest drop in early votes occurred among the black voters who form her political base. A whiter runoff portends nearly certain doom for Landrieu, who won just 18 percent of the white vote on November 4.

Democrats warn against reading too deeply into the early voting numbers, citing the fact they don’t capture swing voters, and paint an incomplete portrait of the electorate. But it certainly looks like Republicans are on track to lock down a 54th Senate seat this Saturday.

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

U.S. Senate Rejects Keystone Pipeline By One Vote

Washington (AFP) – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday narrowly rejected a bill that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring crude oil to Gulf coast refineries from Canada’s controversial tar sands.

Supporters of the long-delayed project, a top Republican energy priority, came up one vote short of the 60 needed for approval in the 100-member chamber.

Rejection of the pipeline, which became a political football in the aftermath of November’s midterm elections, sets up another likely showdown when the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.

Many of the 45 Republicans who supported the bill, as well as some of the 14 Democrats who voted with them, described Keystone XL as a “no-brainer” that would generate thousands of jobs and improve American energy independence.

But critics, led by Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer, fiercely oppose the project due to concerns that it would harm the environment.

Republicans vowed they would bring the bill to another vote in January.

“Senate Democrats once again stood in the way of a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work — a remarkable stance after an election in which the American people sent a clear message to Congress, to approve serious policies,” top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said.

“But once the 114th Congress convenes, the Senate will act again on this important legislation, and I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the New Year.”

AFP Photo/Spencer Platt