State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik-Terrell will declare her candidacy for the U.S. Senate this week, which means Louisiana will have a hotly contested Senate race after all. Without Terrell in the race, incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, would have waltzed back into office in the November primary.
Now she'll have to fight her way back.
Terrell's entry completes the GOP's strategy of offering conservative voters a menu of candidates, each of whom appeals to a different geographic and/or ideological pool. Terrell joins Congressman John Cooksey of Monroe and state Rep. Tony Perkins of Baton Rouge in opposing Landrieu.
The "menu" strategy springs from Louisiana's unique open primary elections system and the fact that Landrieu would likely beat any GOP challenger head-to-head in November. On the other hand, if enough Republicans from different political bases all oppose Landrieu in November and deny her a majority in the primary, the survivor could have a fighting chance in the December runoff.
Several factors weigh in favor of that scenario. First, a December runoff would be the only statewide race on the ballot. Second, the only other race possibly on the ballot would be a runoff for Cooksey's seat in northeast Louisiana -- which would turn out a lot of conservative voters. Third, turnout in New Orleans (Landrieu's base) would be huge in November, but much smaller in December. And finally, it would be the last U.S. Senate race in the country. If the balance of power in the Senate is still undetermined (a distinct possibility), Landrieu's runoff will be a national election.
As a female from New Orleans who appeals to conservatives as well as moderates, Terrell could be Landrieu's worst nightmare. Terrell's supporters believe she's the most likely Republican to make it to a runoff, if there is one, and she could cut the deepest into Landrieu's base among women and New Orleans-area voters.
While Terrell is clearly the biggest threat to Landrieu, she would be wise not to underestimate the senator. Throughout her career, Landrieu has proved to be one of Louisiana's most tenacious campaigners. She won't be the first to attack -- frontrunners rarely shoot first -- but she knows how to return fire. Landrieu currently has $3 million in the bank and is raising more daily. She will mount a massive effort to get out her vote in November, and she'll be aided locally by the expected runoff in the open race for New Orleans district attorney.
Landrieu also has made key inroads among business folks and conservatives -- even Republicans -- by moving toward the right on certain hot-button issues. Several high-profile business and Republican leaders have already endorsed Landrieu and are raising money for her.
Terrell hopes to make Landrieu's move to the middle an issue. "Mary has been rearranging her stances and her politics since she was first elected to the Senate," Terrell told me. "Now we could have the chance to elect someone who starts out from Louisiana's mainstream."
If the race comes down to Landrieu and Terrell, it will pit two of Louisiana's top female campaigners against each other. Even in the primary, it will be fun to watch.
Several weeks ago, in my column summarizing the "Winnas & Loozas" of the legislative session, I incorrectly stated that cops, firemen and state police won enhanced retirement benefits. State troopers got a raise (which ultimately will give them bigger retirement checks), and firefighters outside New Orleans got help shoring up their under-funded retirement system. New Orleans firemen have a separate retirement system that was not affected by the legislation. I apologize if I created any confusion.
- As a female from New Orleans who appeals to conservatives as well as moderates, Suzanne Haik- Terrell could be Sen. Mary Landrieu's worst nightmare.