If Republicans have any hope of winning a Senate majority in 2014, they’re going to have to beat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D, in Louisiana. And a new Conservative Intel Poll of the Pelican State suggests that way they could well do so. Landrieu starts the 2014 cycle trailing her strongest GOP opponent in a head-to-head matchup.
The poll, conducted for Conservative Intel last week by Harper Polling, shows the three-term senator trailing, 47 to 45 percent, against U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Republican representing most of the Baton Rouge area. This despite the fact that Cassidy, a medical doctor who announced his candidacy in April, is not very well known throughout the state — 59 percent of the 596 likely voters surveyed did not know enough about him to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion.
Cassidy’s lead is well within the poll’s four-point margin of error, so the two should be considered in a statistical tie. On the generic ballot, 42 percent of respondents said they would prefer to elect a Republican, versus 41 percent who wanted a Democrat to win.
Conservative Intel also tested head-to-head runs between Landrieu and two lesser-known potential GOP challengers. Rob Maness, an Air Force veteran who has announced his candidacy, trailed Landrieu in a head-to-head ballot test, 47 to 41 percent. State Sen. Elbert Guillory, who recently switched to the GOP, tied Landrieu at 44 percent. Guillory has not indicated any interest in running.
These head-to-head ballot tests merely give a sense of where voters are at the moment. Louisiana’s open primary system works a bit differently, pitting all candidates from all parties against one another, with a head-to-head runoff between the top two a few weeks afterward if no one gets 50 percent.
Landrieu, whose family name is revered in Louisiana politics, faces a tough battle, but it is not her first, and she has proven surprisingly resilient in past contests. Respondents in our poll did not particularly dislike her — 44 percent approve of the job she is doing in the Senate, compared to 37 percent who disapprove. Forty-five percent view her favorably and only 41 percent unfavorably. Still, a slight plurality (46 percent to 43 percent) said she does not deserve re-election, preferring instead to give someone else a chance in her seat.
Louisiana’s other Senator, Republican David Vitter, enjoys slightly better numbers than Landrieu, with 47 percent approval and just 35 percent disapproval. Voters seem to have completely forgiven the embarrassing 2007 prostitution scandal that briefly seemed to threaten his career — not surprising, as he was easily re-elected after that in 2010. Although a plurality does not want Vitter to run for governor in 2015 (44 percent no to 27 percent yes), they prefer him slightly (45 percent to 43 percent) to Landrieu’s brother Mitch, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans.
Mitch Landrieu is not as well known statewide as his sister or Vitter, but he is popular, with 42 percent in the state viewing him favorably and only 28 percent unfavorably.
Second-term Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is occasionally mentioned as a presidential contender in 2016, but he has some work to do back home first. He is deeply unpopular two years after he was re-elected over token opposition. Only 35 percent of respondents view Jindal favorably, versus 51 percent who view him unfavorably. In a hypothetical 2016 presidential matchup, respondents in our poll picked Hillary Clinton over Jindal, 44 to 42 percent.
Finally, we tested the idea of reality TV star Willie Robertson running for the open seat created by the resignation of Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander. A plurality (41 percent) believe that the star of Duck Dynasty should not run for the seat, but 26 percent believe he should and another 33 percent expressed uncertainty. Willie is the second-most-popular member of the cast (24 percent), coming in just behind his Uncle Silas (26 percent).
Speaking of which, Republicans took advantage of Duck Dynasty’s season premiere last week to run this ad against Sen. Landrieu, using the design from the Nintendo classic Duck Hunt:
Once a conservative but Democratic state, Louisiana has seen a major reversal of party fortunes since 2004, when Democrats occupied the governor’s mansion and both Senate seats, nearly all six minor statewide offices and controlled both houses of the state legislature.
Hurricane Katrina hastened the state’s political transformation, but this was not primarily a function of voter attrition in Orleans Parish after the storm. In fact, the party change had much more to do with traditionally Democratic rural voters turning ferociously against the ruling party. In 2012, New Orleans delivered a 100,000-vote margin for the Democrats’ presidential candidate — only slightly smaller (by about 10,000 votes) than it had in 2004.
Also, in 2003, when Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco narrowly defeated Jindal to become governor (map at right), she had the race won by 5,000 votes before a single vote in Orleans Parish was counted. Democrats have since lost most of their upstate support, and with it their entire grip on power — all seven statewide offices as well as both houses of the state legislature.
However, it is worth noting that the last statewide race in which Democrats did well outside New Orleans was Sen. Landrieu’s 2008 re-elect. She won by six points, and, as with Blanco, would have won without counting any votes in Orleans Parish.