Washington Prowler

Cajun Possibility

The national Republican Party might want to pay attention to Louisiana. Also: Al Gore's Little Darlings.

By 7.25.02

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LITTLE MARY
With all the talk about Republicans having to pick up Senate seats to regain control of the Senate, the media -- and the Prowler -- have focused on races in Tennessee, South Dakota, Texas and North Carolina. But Republicans now may have found a seat to pick up that was thought to be safe for Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu's in Louisiana. It didn't seem possible six months ago to imagine that Landrieu would be vulnerable. After all, while she's not as moderate as her Bayou colleague John Breaux, she does vote with the Bushies about 75 percent of the time and she's cute as a button. But Landrieu's homestate election laws are conspiring against her. Election Day, November 5 is open and nonpartisan and serves as both the state's primary and general election. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election would be held between the top two finishers on December 7.

Already, the Republicans have three candidates set to be on the ballot, led by Rep. John Cooksey and Suzanne Haik Terrell, the state elections commissioner. Cooksey might be favored, but comes from neither New Orleans nor Cajun Country, the two largest voting blocs in the state. What the state Republican Party hopes will happen is that Landrieu, facing off against possibly four other opponents, will fail to get 50 percent of the vote in November, triggering the runoff and giving a Republican a chance to steal a seat during the runup to the holidays, when voter turnout might be lower than usual.

Landrieu barely won election her first time out in 1996 when she faced off in a runoff against Republican Woody Jenkins. At one point, Jenkins was favored to win that race but ultimately lost in a controversial squeaker. "If we get Landrieu in a runoff, we have a shot," says an RNC pollster. "I don't think we're putting that seat in the winnable column yet, but it's getting there. If the state party runs a smart campaign, we have a shot."

And Republicans may have that shot thanks to another Democrat, former Rep. Cleo Fields. Fields has made some statements to the press that indicate he is mulling entering the race against Landrieu, or might endorse another African-American candidate to challenge her instead.

"The more the merrier is what I say," says the RNC pollster.

AL'S LITTLE DARLINGS
This week is Al Gore's version of summer camp, a dweeby gathering called the Democratic Summer Academy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Gore's PAC is underwriting the week-long affair, which is being billed as a boot camp for young politicos looking to learn how to run and win Democratic campaigns. The setting places 40 or so future foot soldiers for the Democratic Party in the hands of Gore, ace political strategist and analyst. Take his heartfelt opening comments to the young, impressionable minds: "We have to win the elections less than 100 days from now. They [Republicans] have a radical agenda," Gore told the kids. "We [Democrats] need to keep the Senate. We need to take the House of Representatives."

Next he rolled out a radical blueprint for future Democratic success: "Then, two years after that we will take back the White House and start over with a fresh administration."

"Mr. Gore was always known for his revolutionary thinking, you know, outside the box and all that," says an amused Republican National Committee strategist. "Those kids are getting a real education."

After breaking down the next two elections Gore turned his attention to the economy. He told the campers that the U.S. economy was in the "doldrums." But he had a plan. "If given the chance," Gore said. "I'd tell the administration, 'Scrap your economic plan and start from scratch.'" No word yet on whether the Bush White House has put up a white flag.

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