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Louisiana politics is never boring

May 5, 2014, at 7:05 AM
 

Last week on Political Wire's podcast, we brought on John Maginnis, founder of LAPolitics.com, to discuss the fascinating world of Louisiana politics, especially as it pertains to the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation:

1. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is in real danger but may be buoyed by some recently acquired senatorial clout. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is a top GOP target this cycle as the Republicans seek to regain control of the Senate in November. Although she is known for bucking President Obama on key issues, particularly pertaining to energy policy, her vote for ObamaCare won't help her in November. "She's not seen as being too liberal for the state, but she is a Democrat, and that health care vote is hanging out there," Maginnis said. "The more this is a national race, the more trouble she's going to be in."

But Landrieu could benefit from her recently acquired post as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As chairman, Landrieu is now the most powerful senator on an issue that encapsulates her state's biggest industry: oil and gas. And she's definitely known for bucking her fellow Democrats to help her state's oil and gas industry. "Those are kind of competing forces: Are we going to make a decision based on who's going to be in control of the Senate, or who has proven she will work for all of Louisiana?"

2. Thanks to Louisiana's unorthodox runoff system, Landrieu almost certainly won't lose in November. Louisiana is unique in that its general election for the Senate is also the primary. All the candidates, Democrat and Republican, will be on the same ballot. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent support, a runoff between the top two will occur in December. Landrieu's top Republican rival is Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician and the GOP establishment pick. But two other, lesser-known Republicans are also vying for the seat. Even if Landrieu fails to get over 50 percent in November, Cassidy probably won't get 50 percent either because the other Republicans will siphon votes from him, Maginnis explained.

3. The favored candidate in a December runoff will depend on whether Senate control still hangs in the balance. Given Louisiana's unique runoff system, a potential nightmare scenario (but a political junkie's dream) would involve Senate control coming down to Louisiana but the Bayou State's race going to a runoff. In that scenario, the Louisiana Senate race would become the most important race of the 2014 cycle. "I think it's bad news for Landrieu, because then it really becomes a nationalized race," Maginnis said. Republicans and conservative groups, with a chance to poach the Senate majority for the GOP, will be strongly motivated to pour as much money as they can into the runoff race. But if Senate control is already decided, "then I think that will help Landrieu a lot," Maginnis said. People will be thinking what's going to be best for Louisiana," and they may go with an incumbent who has seniority and who has shown a track record of putting her state ahead of her party.

4. Cassidy has a name-recognition problem and a tea party problem. The physician from the Baton Rouge area has an impressive personal and professional background as a physician for a charity hospital and a one-time medical professor at Louisiana State University. But Maginnis said Cassidy still isn't particularly well-known across the whole state and needs to get his name out. And although he's conservative, he also has a pragmatic streak at times, a quality that has rankled staunch conservatives and tea partiers. For example, Cassidy in the past backed finding some way to bring universal health coverage to Louisiana. Given that midterm elections tend to turn out the most passionate voters, it's unclear whether Cassidy can inspire the GOP's staunchly conservative base voters to turn out in big numbers. They may turn out in big numbers if the GOP can convince them that toppling Landrieu will bring Republicans the Senate majority.

5. Even if Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) runs for president in 2016, he may really be after the vice presidential nomination. Maginnis put it bluntly: "I just don't see that he's gained any kind of traction to really be a top-tier presidential contender." Jindal simply isn't mentioned up there with the Jeb Bushes and Rand Pauls of the world. He may still enter the presidential primaries, but his prospects are fairly dim. A potential consolation prize for Jindal would be to fill out the GOP ticket as the vice presidential nominee. If a center-right moderate like Jeb Bush were to win the nomination in 2016, Jindal could make the case that his conservatism would balance out the ticket and inspire the GOP's base voters, Maginnis said.

Listen to the whole conversation:

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