Eight months before Election Day, first-term U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu is sitting pretty with almost 58 percent of the vote against her two announced opponents in the November primary. And she hasn't even started campaigning yet.
A recent statewide survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR), a Baton Rouge polling outfit, shows that Landrieu has made remarkable strides in the last few years -- particularly after being an early target of the national Republicans, who would love to retake control of the U.S. Senate.
The SMOR poll, taken Feb. 25 through March 2, asked voters to choose between Landrieu, Republican Congressman John Cooksey of Monroe, and Republican Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman of St. Tammany. The results:
· Landrieu, 57.5 percent
· Cooksey, 16.1 percent
· Blossman, 8.4 percent
· Undecided/refused, 18 percent.
"In six years she has come a long way," pollster Bernie Pinsonat says of Landrieu. "Her numbers are pretty amazing considering the tough race she had to get elected. Her negatives are way down, and she's in pretty good shape."
The "negatives" to which Pinsonat refers are numbers that reflect voters' impressions of Landrieu. SMOR asked voters in the survey to describe their impressions of Landrieu, Cooksey and Blossman as either "very favorable," "somewhat favorable," "somewhat unfavorable" or "very unfavorable." The first two responses are considered "positive" and the latter, "negative."
In the latest SMOR survey, Landrieu scored 34 percent "very favorable" and 36 percent "somewhat favorable," for a combined positive rating of 70 percent. Only 10.6 percent expressed "somewhat unfavorable" views of her, and another 12.5 percent rated her as "very unfavorable." Her combined negative was thus 23 percent. Only 6.6 percent expressed no opinion. Those are enviable scores for any incumbent.
The same ratings for Cooksey and Blossman showed most voters have no clue who they are.
Blossman scored a combined positive of 30.5 percent, with a negative of 14.1 percent. More than 55 percent expressed no opinion.
Cooksey's overall positive was 36.4 percent, compared to a combined negative of 21.6 percent. Those are pretty weak numbers for a congressman who aspires to the U.S. Senate. No doubt his negatives would go up even higher if voters were reminded of his "diaperhead" comments after Sept. 11.
But the best news for Landrieu may be the poll results in Acadiana, where she struggled against Woody Jenkins in 1996. This time, she leads her opponents by the same margins as the statewide results: 58 percent for Landrieu, 15 percent for Cooksey, 8 percent for Blossman.
"The bottom line now is that her opponents have spent money running ads, but in Acadiana, where she didn't do all that well against Woody Jenkins in 1996, she's doing extremely well," says Pinsonat. "They'll have to try to take votes away from her over there. More important, I think it's going to be hard to raise money against her. When she's sitting there at 57 percent-plus, it's going to be tough to raise money against her."
Landrieu has worked hard to position herself in the philosophical middle -- shadowing her colleague and fellow Democrat John Breaux -- and her efforts appear to be paying off. Pinsonat says there's another reason for her sky-high numbers: Sept. 11.
"Most incumbents are enjoying popularity like they haven't seen before," Pinsonat says. "The public is mostly concerned with the war on terrorism. ...
"Normally, being an incumbent coming from Washington is not good. You typically run away from Washington. But with our security threatened, Washington has become the source of our security. People are not displeased with the federal government right now. The feds are what's standing between us and the terrorists. Plus, nobody was mad at Landrieu before September 11. So it's hard to get people mad at her now. Try as they might, the ads that her opponents have been running aren't sticking."
The bottom lines is that Landrieu's opponents are going to have to take votes away from her just to get in the game. So far, they haven't come close, and the clock is ticking.