|Money Pours into the Final Race of the 2002 Election|
3, 2002 -- Dec. 7, 2002 could very well be called the Second Battle of
New Orleans. The first one -- a bloody clash between American soldiers
under future president Andrew Jackson and British troops -- was fought
in January 1815, more than a month after the Treaty of Ghent ended the
War of 1812.
Like its predecessor, the 2002 Battle of New Orleans will also be the last major skirmish of a war that's already been decided: this year's battle for control of the U.S. Senate, which was won by the GOP.
As national advisers and money pour into the Bayou State, freshman Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Commissioner of Elections Suzanne Haik Terrell have been pounding each other on television and in heated debates ahead of their Dec. 7 runoff.
The holiday season runoff stems from a uniquely Louisiana law. On Nov. 5, residents voted in an open primary from a crowded slate of nine candidates. Landrieu led the balloting with 46 percent of the vote, but since she failed to garner the 50 percent needed to win the election outright, she had to face the second-place finisher.
"It's going to be a war down there in Louisiana," Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority whip, said in November.
Republicans have planned to flood with campaign with as much as $10 million as the relatively unknown Terrell fights to unseat Landrieu.
The campaigns have aired harsh ads and lobbed sweeping criticisms. Terrell blasted Landrieu for living in a "million-dollar" mansion in Washington -- really a row house in the out-of-control housing market in the nation's capital. Landrieu has accused Terrell of serving as a rubber stamp for the president and having switched her positions on abortion and taxes to appeal to the GOP's core voters.
White House officials have descended on the state offering financial and other support for Terrell. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at a fundraiser more than a week ago, and next week brings a double-barrel appearance by former President Bush on Monday and current President Bush on Tuesday.
Although analysts and many Democrats have expressed a need to sharpen the differences between their party and the president, that desire has not filtered into Louisiana.
"The Republicans' strategy: show how close Terrell is to Bush. The Democrats' approach: pretty much the same," Margaret Carlson wrote in the Dec. 2 edition of Time. "That's right, despite the new tough talk from the party's presidential wannabes, the Democrats' best strategy right now is to narrow the gap with Bush, maybe pretend there's no daylight at all."
Terrell has criticized Landrieu for voting with the president only 74 percent of the time. Landrieu counters that she has supported the president on major bills like the tax cut, homeland defense and the Leave No Child Behind Act, but has opposed the president when she felt it would hurt Louisiana.
"I know I speak for each of you when I say this administration's steady and deliberate leadership has been and will be a comfort to all of us. Our country is in great hands," Terrell said in welcoming Vice President Cheney to a fundraiser earlier this month. "It's humbling to have the support of the administration."
While national GOP leaders have flooded the state in support of Terrell, there are no planned trips to Louisiana by Democrats like Al Gore, former President Bill Clinton or Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Landrieu has worked hard to distance herself from the national Democratic Party.
"I'm not going to be a rubber stamp for any national party," she said. "The president doesn't need ... another senator. Louisiana needs another senator."
Landrieu has focused much of her attention on mending a long-standing rift with several key African-American Democrats in the state -- one, former U.S. Rep. Cleo Fields, at one point even considered running against the senator.
Her efforts to reach out to Fields and others finally netted the former congressman's endorsement some two weeks after the Nov. 5 vote.
"Now is the time for unity in the Democratic Party," Fields, now a state legislator, said at a Nov. 19 press conference. "I'm going to do anything that's asked of me. This is not an endorsement for the sake of endorsing. I want to be a part of it, and I'm going to do anything I can to help them win."
Despite the millions of dollars in campaign ads, core voters like African-Americans for the Democrats and religious conservatives for the Republicans may make the difference on Dec. 7, campaign watcher Charlie Cook said in a Nov. 26 column.
"Credible private polling is showing the race very close. Landrieu is ahead by single digits, but there is a dangerously large undecided vote," Cooks wrote. "The biggest variable will be turnout, and the runoff in the 5th District is the only other thing on the ballot anywhere in the state."