|Senator Mary Landrieu (Democrat)|
Sen. Mary Landrieu knew she would be a top target for Republicans gunning to take back control of the Senate. She knew it because President Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in the state in 2000 and, more importantly, because she had won her own seat in 1996 by some 5,788 votes -- only .3 percent of nearly 1.7 million ballots cast.
Landrieu's election sparked a legislative challenge and congressional inquiry that would last 10 months into her first term. Her victory over veteran state legislator Louis "Woody" Jenkins led to a detailed review by the Senate Rules Committee, led by Virginia Republican John Warner. Even when several of Jenkins' witnesses recanted in the summer of 1997, the inquiry continued, angering Landrieu and other Senate Democrats. But by October the committee had exhausted the investigation and allowed the results to stand, despite citing several instances of voter fraud..
When it was finally over, Landrieu still stood as the first woman ever elected to a full term of service in the U.S. Senate from the state of Louisiana.
Landrieu grew up in an old New Orleans political family. The eldest of nine children born to Moon Landrieu, the mayor of the Big Easy during the 1970's, she seemed destined for a life in politics. Educated at the prestigious Ursuline Academy, she went on to earn B.A. in sociology from Louisiana State University. After graduation, she volunteered for the judicial campaign of family friend Gerard Hansenfor and saw an opportunity to follow in her father's famous footsteps.
At the age of 23, prompted by friends and family, she ran for the state House of Representatives. With the help of the family name, Landrieu knocked off her opponent and became the youngest woman ever elected to the legislature. Her colleagues greeted her with whistles the first time she addressed the chamber and once put rubber snakes in her desk. Despite the hazing, she still managed to push through legislation cracking down on deadbeat dads and protecting victims of domestic abuse.
After eight years as a representative, Landrieu took aim at a statewide office, running for treasurer on a platform of reform and fiscal responsibility. Building on her two successful runs for the state house, she waged a disciplined statewide operation, defeating a well-regarded state representative and two other candidates.
As treasurer, Landrieu opened up the state contract system that had been noted for its cronyism. She also stood out as a critic of both the powerful governor at the time, Edwin Edwards, and a movement to legalize gambling. After Edwards' political demise amid a flurry of racketeering, fraud and extortion allegations, Landrieu decided to run for governor in 1995.
The governor's race was a tight one, with four candidates bunched closely together in the polls on primary day. When the totals became clear, Landrieu had gone down in defeat. By just 1 percent, or 8,983 votes, she missed the runoff election. It marked her first defeat since entering politics 16 years earlier.
Rather than fold her tent, Landrieu simply changed her choice of office. Almost immediately she began campaigning for the Senate seat being vacated by Bennett Johnson. In early polling, Landrieu and Democratic Attorney General Richard Ieyoub were running far ahead of any potential Republicans, including the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Louisiana Republicans drafted veteran state legislator Woody Jenkins to run. As the open primary approached, national GOP ads flooded the airwaves attacking Ieyoub's questionable election spending in past campaigns. The result of the campaigning was a close primary -- Jenkins garnered 26 percent of the vote, Landrieu was second with 22 percent, Ieyoub ended third with 20 percent and Duke brought in 12 percent.
With the runoff set between Landrieu and Jenkins, the campaign turned ugly. Jenkins attacked Landrieu on abortion and gay rights issues, but Landrieu, by this time better financed, fired back. She criticized him for being too extreme in his fiscal views. The campaign grew even tighter when the Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans, Philip Hannan, declared if "a person actually believes in Catholic doctrine, then I don't see how they can vote for Landrieu without a feeling of sin."
In the end the vote was agonizingly close. Landrieu dominated in New Orleans and in the northwest part of the state. Jenkins barely won Baton Rouge, but decisively captured the traditionally Democratic areas of largely Cajun Catholics in the southern part of the state.
Once able to focus on governing, Landrieu built a solidly moderate voting record. As part of the Centrist Democratic Caucus, she cast critical votes on several key issues. She was one of the Democrats who backed President Bush's $1.25 trillion tax cut and endorsed the repeal of the so-called marriage penalty tax. She has also opposed other high-profile initiatives from the president. In January she voted against the confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general. She voted for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill. As her re-election campaign began, though, Landrieu declared she had voted with President Bush 74 percent of the time.
--By Lee Banville, Online NewsHour