Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu may face an easier re-election bid than she anticipated, even though Republicans continue to eye her Senate seat as vulnerable enough for a GOP pickup.
In 2002, Landrieu won re-election by a razor-thin margin. Recent polls show her maintaining a lead over state Treasurer John Kennedy despite national Republican efforts to unseat her.
A Sept. 25 telephone survey of 500 homes by Rasmussen Reports found Landrieu ahead of Kennedy by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin. While Landrieu held onto her lead, Kennedy's poll numbers are up slightly from a Rasmussen poll conducted Aug. 14 that put him at 37 percent to Landrieu's 53 percent.
Early in the race, political watchers put Landrieu's re-election in the competitive column after many voters in her Democratic base did not return to Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
But the Republican Party hasn't given up the push to unseat her. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has funded TV ads for the remaining two weeks of the race, reversing an earlier decision to cancel its last weeks of advertising in Louisiana. The NRSC launched an ad campaign and Web site that attempts to paint Landrieu as a "corrupt liberal." The most recent TV ad links Landrieu to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Landrieu, who has served in the Senate for 12 years, can use seniority to her advantage. Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, writes in his "Senate Sensibilities" blog. Sabato says that Louisiana voters will stand by Landrieu in part because they want to keep a senator that is part of the majority party caucus.
And, despite charges from Kennedy that she hasn't done enough to help rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of devastating storms of 2005, Landrieu has largely framed her campaign around the resources she has steered to her state in the aftermath of the disasters.
In July, the U.S. Senate passed new legislation, including $1 billion in tax breaks for homeowners who received assistance through the Road Home program, which helps Louisiana residents rebuild or sell hurricane-damaged houses. The Senate also approved another $300 million in tax breaks for businesses rebuilding since the 2005 hurricanes, according to Landrieu's Web site.
The senator also claims a role in the federal government agreement to grant the Bayou State up to 30 years to repay its $1.8 billion share for levee improvements in the New Orleans area, which originally had to be repaid by 2011.
Meanwhile, Kennedy has criticized Landrieu for lackluster recovery efforts, particularly given her role as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security that oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.
He also claims Landrieu is too liberal for Louisiana, painting her as a candidate who supported tax hikes and opposed conservative judges, according to the Associated Press. The NRSC cites Landrieu as one of "Washington's 20 most corrupt members of Congress," according to the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
A separate ranking by Congressional Quarterly, however, rates Landrieu among the most independent members of the Senate.
For her part, Landrieu has assailed Kennedy's switch to the Republican Party in 2007. Four years ago, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Senate on a platform opposed to President Bush's tax cuts, in favor of a minimum wage hike and backing Democratic Sen. John Kerry for the presidency.
In an Oct. 12 debate, the second face-off between the two candidates, Landrieu raised the issue of his party switch. "I am going to continue to say that my political opponent is confused," she said, according to The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. "That is the kindest thing I can say."
While Landrieu and Kennedy have focused on framing their differences, they strike agreement on some issues, such as supporting offshore oil and gas drilling should be expanded and opposing a strict timetable for removing U.S. troops from Iraq.
One of Kennedy's attacks on Landrieu involves her support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, who likely will not win the Bayou State. A poll average by RealClearPolitics strongly favors Republican Sen. John McCain over Obama in the state with a 15 percentage point lead.
Landrieu has defended her endorsement of Obama, but insisted that presidential endorsements shouldn't be a central focus of the Senate race. "John, I know you're trying very hard, but Sen. McCain's coattails are not long enough for you," Landrieu told Kennedy, according to the AP.
Landrieu's outreach efforts to conservative voters have also included her repeated introduction of a constitutional amendment to protect references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and U.S. currency.
"Landrieu has turned Kennedy's attacks to her advantage, using them to highlight the very thing that makes her a typical Louisiana Democrat," Times-Picayune columnist Stephanie Grace wrote on Oct. 21. "Whenever Kennedy brings up National Journal's ranking of Barack Obama as the most liberal senator, Landrieu boasts of her own 49th place ranking. So far, the polls are coming down in her favor."