Monday, November 1

I want to expound a little more on the previous post. Louisiana has never, in the modern era, elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate. Not once. That's not to say our laundry list of Democrats has been drab- not when it includes the likes of Huey P. Long and son Russell B. Sadly, my favorite Long boy, Huey's brother Earl K., never made it to the Senate. He was governor for two nonconsecutive terms, though, which included incidents like this:

"His behavior and rhetoric was at times so bizarre, that his wife, Blanche, eventually committed him to a mental institution during his second term. Confined to the state hospital in Mandeville, he demanded to be released, a demand that the hospital administrator refused. Earl then fired the administrator, and replaced him with someone who did release him. The courts later confirmed that insane or not, he had the authority.

"After his release, he continued to garner attention from the press by wild shopping sprees, and trips to Bourbon Street. He made no secret of his relationship with Bourbon Street striptease performer Blaze Starr, which led to yet another scandal."

That sort of thing is more or less the norm in Louisiana political history. What a great state.

Earl was also known for his ranting delivery while campaigning. My dad likes to tell about the time when he was a kid and Earl came to campaign in his town. Dad said after watching Earl for a few minutes as he stood in the back of a pickup truck and raved about this and that, he thought to himself, "That man must be crazy." Sure enough, a few years later Long was shipped off.

I wouldn't say most Louisianians are "proud" of our political heritage, but we sure as heck aren't ashamed of it. We just laugh it off and deal with it by telling the countless stories as we shake our heads. To be fair, our politics today do (slowly but surely) seem to be moving away from that colorful legacy.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that little digression.

I'm not sure if there are any other states that can claim to be GOP-free in the Senate, but our claim to it may end this year.

We've come very close in two recent elections- in 2002 Mary Landrieu won re-election over Suzanne Haik Terrell 52-48%, and in 1996, when she was first elected to replace J. Bennett Johnston, Landrieu defeated Woody Jenkins by less than 6,000 votes out of 1.7 million cast. I won't comment on that except to say that New Orleans is not the first place you'd send an Iraqi delegation wanting to learn to run a clean election.

The state is a little behind the rest of the South in trending Republican, so I won't say this is the best chance a Republican will ever have to reach the Senate from Louisiana. But it is perhaps the GOP's best chance to this point, due to these three factors:

- It's an open seat. Vitter, John and Kennedy are vying for retiring Sen. John Breaux's seat. There's little chance anyone could have unseated the very popular Breaux, who won his third term in the primary by garnering 64% in 1998 against a field of 7 challengers, 6 of whom garnered less than 1.3% and 1 of whom, Republican Jim Donelon, picked up 31.6% of the vote.

- It's a presidential election year with a GOP incumbent. The conventional wisdom (borne out by the results) is that down-ticket candidates benefit if their guy wins the presidency. Also known as the "coattails" effect. Louisiana will go for Bush, but the margin could determine whether Vitter is able to avoid the runoff.

- Vitter is a viable candidate. He's not perfect, but he's no Woody Jenkins. Sorry Woody, I respect you, but Jenkins allowed Landrieu to paint you as a right-wing extremist in your 1996 race. Right-wing, yes, but was Jenkins an extremist? Who knows, but the strategy worked...barely.

Vitter has made some key strategic moves in his advertisements, including stating that he's "not interested in political parties" (or something to that effect), and highlighting a key difference with President Bush on prescription drugs. One commercial shows Vitter shivering in a blizzard, supposedly in Canada working to provide us with cheaper medicine.

In taking these steps, he's clearly trying to earn some crossover support. As the only Republican in the field, he doesn't need to earn much to get 50%.

I like Vitter's chances, runoff or no runoff. There's no way to know how it will shake out on Tuesday, but if Vitter fails to reach 50% our little state will be in the spotlight again for a month, as we were for the 2002 runoff- assuming the Presidential election actually is resolved on or around Nov. 2.

It was suggested that visits from the President and other GOP bigs in 2002 hurt Terrell, as they were viewed as outside meddling (this is the South, after all, and we're not so sure about those folks from Washington). I'm curious what strategy Vitter will employ if faced with a similar situation.


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