Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana Senate runoff election Saturday night, giving the GOP its 54th seat in the upper chamber when Congress reconvenes next year. The Republican Party now holds every statewide office in the swath of seven states that used to make up the Solid South for Democrats: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the ascendant Republican Majority Leader, commended the senator-elect in a statement Saturday, saying "I want to congratulate Bill Cassidy in his runoff election victory and welcome him to the Senate Republican Conference in the 114th Congress."
Landrieu, 58, had held the seat for 18 years. In the race's final days, she had been been frantically crisscrossing the state, focusing on stoking turnout among her African-American base. She had charged that Cassidy has been “disrespectful” to President Obama, and said that if the congressman is elected, the GOP will try to impeach the president.
Landrieu had attempted to distance herself from the president, who is deeply unpopular in Louisiana. After the 2010 BP oil spill, Obama declared a moratorium on oil and gas drilling, angering many with ties to the industry, a substantial portion of the state’s population. Although she had previously blocked voting on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Landrieu claimed credit last month for pressuring Harry Reid to bring it up in an apparent last-ditch effort to boost her electoral prospects. The bill failed by one vote, with Landrieu unable to rally enough support to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
In his statement congratulating Cassidy for his win, Sen. McConnell made a point of highlighting the congressman's sponsorship of the House-passed bill to authorize the "construction of the shovel-ready, job-creating Keystone XL pipeline," an apparent jab at Landrieu's own, failed effort to capitalize on local support for the project. "I look forward to Sen.-elect Cassidy's help when the new Republican majority passes the Keystone jobs bill early next year," he said.
Front-runners tend to limit their public appearances to avoid a slip, but Cassidy took that strategy to an extreme in the days leading up to Saturday's victory. While Landrieu was barnstorming the state, he returned to Washington, D.C., Wednesday and Thursday for a series of House votes. And Saturday, he’s said he plans to teach a medical course on a new electronic records system.
Also working against the incumbent was the fact that the electorate in runoff elections tends to be whiter than that for regular elections. In early voting for the runoff, Democratic turnout was down 18% compared to early voting for the November 4 election. On the Republican side, it was up 4%.
In that November 4 contest, Landrieu edged Cassidy, 42% to 41%, but fell well short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. A tea party candidate, Rob Maness, took 14%. His voters now appear headed to Cassidy.
Landrieu is part of a political dynasty in her state. Her father, Moon, served as mayor of New Orleans during the 1970s, and her brother, Mitch, currently holds the same post.
The Real Clear Politics summary of polls previously gave Cassidy a 20-point margin.