Washington Prowler

Recovery Zones

Bad turnout and Landrieu still wins? Also: What Lindsey-O'Neill knew. Plus: Edward to burn candles at both ends of table tonight.

By 12.8.02

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GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DIN-DIN?
Tonight the candles will be burning bright and Sen. John Edwards will be putting out the good china for a dinner party where, according to staff sources, he will wine and dine New Hampshire Democratic Party officials.

"He's made a number of trips up there, and this is just part of the process of the party getting to know him and what he thinks," says an Edwards staffer.

No word yet on whether Edwards, who has become New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's latest scratching post, will be showing slides from his recent European vacation.

SATURDAY SURPRISES
On Sunday morning, Republican National Committee staffers in Louisiana were mulling whether to pursue an investigation into voter reports across the state in the wake of Mary Landrieu's victory over Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell. If they did, however, they expect that building such a case would end up in the same place their 1996 Bayou voter fraud case ended up: nowhere.

"We had an unbelievable amount of evidence last time out," says a GOP lawyer who worked the case. "We had just outrageous examples of Democratic fraud: dead people voting multiple times, ex-felons, cash for votes, hundreds of affidavits and examples. The courts just threw it out."

In fact, the Louisiana case in 1996 was thought to be the most compelling example of electoral malfeasance since the glory days of the Daley machine in Chicago.

In 2002, from Shreveport to New Orleans, reports of voter fraud -- from cash for voter recruitment to intimidation at voting sites -- began pouring in when the polls opened on Saturday morning. The suspicion that extensive fraud might be involved set in when, in the early afternoon, the Terrell campaign began seeing exit polls from the morning indicating that black turnout was low, generally an indicator that Landrieu's campaign was in trouble. "We were pretty optimistic at that point," recalls a Terrell staffer in Baton Rouge. "We thought we were in a good place since we thought the rural vote would be bigger."

If Republicans are open to any criticism, it will be the White House and RNC-backed elevation of Terrell over Rep. John Cooksey. Cooksey, potentially, with the same kind of backing Terrell received, might have given Landrieu a better race, given the much more loyal base he would have brought to the runoff. To add insult to injury, the GOP ended up losing his congressional seat to a Democrat on Saturday as well. To be fair, Cooksey's poor campaign showing over the summer left the White House certain it made the right choice in going with Terrell's relatively late candidacy.

In the end, Landrieu pulled out the election in more decisive fashion than she did six years ago. "The key was probably no Clinton, no Gore, no Gephardt, none of the Democratic bogeymen," says a Landrieu staffer. "We didn't want any of 'em around. Mary had to be on the conservative end of the party line."

That, and a little bit of the 'ol Democratic election day gris-gris probably didn't hurt.

A FEELING THEY KNEW
Departing presidential economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey saw the writing on the wall more than a month ago when his name was continually being mentioned as one of the first -- if not the first -- Bush administration leaders to exit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"He had to know," says a White House political operative. "I mean, his name was all over the place. And it was obvious it was coming from inside the White House. The message was clear. I'm surprised he wasn't ready to jump earlier right after the election."

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill apparently was better prepared than most. As his staff opened up a tab at the Old Ebbitt Grill across the street from the Treasury building at lunchtime and drank away the afternoon, O'Neill was rumored to have already packed up his beloved Porsche and hit the road for Pittsburgh.

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