Sen. Mary Landrieu (D)
Elected: 1996, term expires 2014, 3rd term.
Born: Nov. 23, 1955, Arlington, VA .
Home: New Orleans.
Education: LA St. U., B.A. 1977.
Family: Married (Frank Snellings); 2 children.
Elected office: LA House of Reps., 1980–88; LA treasurer, 1988–96.
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana’s senior senator, is a Democrat who was first elected to the Senate in 1996. Landrieu (LAN-drew) has Louisiana politics in her blood. She grew up in New Orleans, the oldest of nine children of Moon Landrieu, the Democratic mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978 and Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Carter administration. Her brother is Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, who was defeated by incumbent Ray Nagin in the 2006 New Orleans mayor’s race. She was educated at Ursuline Academy and Louisiana State University. In 1979, at age 23, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Louisiana Legislature. In 1987, she was elected state Treasurer. A sharp critic of Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards, she was re-elected in 1991. In 1995, she ran for governor and in the September primary finished third, 1% behind the second-place finisher, Democratic Rep. Cleo Fields. Democrats lost the governor’s mansion that year to Republican Mike Foster.
|Mary Landrieu (D)||988,298||(52%)||($10,146,669)|
|John Kennedy (R)||867,177||(46%)||($4,795,281)|
|Mary Landrieu (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (52%), 1996 (50%)
Landrieu immediately started running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Bennett Johnston, who was retiring after 24 years in office. She had a well-known name and a moderate platform—she supported the proposed balanced-budget amendment and capital-gains tax cuts and promised to make education a top priority. Her competition was Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, also a Democrat, and Woody Jenkins, a 25-year state legislator and strong abortion opponent who had run twice unsuccessfully for the Senate as a Democrat and now was running as a Republican. Jenkins led the September primary with 26% to 22% for Landrieu and 20% for Ieyoub; former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke got 12%.
Going into the runoff, Jenkins looked like the favorite. But he had little money left, and Landrieu, who ultimately outspent him, ran ads attacking him as an extremist. The result was an exceedingly close election. The official results showed Landrieu ahead by 5,788 votes, 50.2% to 49.8% for Jenkins. He sued, claiming vote fraud, but withdrew the lawsuit and submitted his claim to the Senate. In October 1997, the Senate Rules Committee concluded that while “isolated instances” of voter fraud did occur, there was no evidence to prove a “widespread effort to illegally affect the outcome of this election” or that Landrieu was involved in the violation of election laws. Landrieu finally claimed the seat.
In the Senate, Landrieu’s voting record places her among the more conservative Democrats. She voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002. Her first bill was for a $5 million block grant for adoption services; her two children are adopted. She backs adoption tax credits and wants higher breaks for those who adopt special needs or foster children. She was the lead co-sponsor of the law providing for speedy citizenship for foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizens. When it went into effect, it created the largest number of new U.S. citizens ever on a single day. Landrieu was the only Democrat who co-sponsored conservative Republican Sam Brownback’s bills to prohibit human cloning for reproduction or research. In 2001, Landrieu secured a seat on the influential Appropriations Committee.
All the while she was running hard for re-election in 2002. She was an obvious Republican target, because of her small margin of victory in 1996 and because of President George W. Bush’s popularity in Louisiana at the time. In 2001, 5th District Rep. John Cooksey, a Republican and a north Louisiana ophthalmologist, launched a challenge. But his candidacy was undone by one word: diaper. On September 18, 2001, a week after the September 11 attacks, Cooksey said in a radio interview in Louisiana, “If I see someone comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, the guy needs to be pulled over.” Cooksey spent $200,000 on radio ads defending his comments. But it was obvious that the Bush White House did not want to back a candidate who would be an embarrassment to the United States in the Middle East.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee encouraged other Republicans to run, banking on a strategy of getting multiple candidates in the field to hold Landrieu to under 50% of the vote, then beating her in the subsequent runoff. State Rep. Tony Perkins, a sponsor of a school-prayer bill, got into the contest, as did Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell. In July, the NRSC started running what would eventually be $2 million worth of television ads against Landrieu. “There’s just something about Mary and higher taxes,” said one. “Landrieu voted in favor of higher taxes over 120 times.” Playing defense, Landrieu ran ads saying she’d supported Bush 74% of the time and that only two Democrats, Georgia’s Zell Miller and Louisiana’s John Breaux, had voted more often with Bush.
At the end of August, the NRSC officially backed Terrell, and started spending money on her behalf, comparing Landrieu’s voting record with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s. Terrell, a New Orleans Catholic, was better positioned than Cooksey or Perkins, both northern Louisiana Protestants, to take votes away from Landrieu in the New Orleans area. However, GOP Gov. Foster endorsed Cooksey. In mid-October, Landrieu started running anti-Terrell ads, charging that taxes and spending went up in New Orleans when she was on the City Council. Perkins attacked Landrieu for living in a “Washington mansion.” On November 5, Landrieu failed to clinch a victory. She won 46% of the vote, to 27% for Terrell, 14% for Cooksey and 10% for Perkins. The three Republicans together led Landrieu 51%-46%.
In the runoff, there was discontent on the Democratic side among black leaders about Landrieu’s ads proclaiming her 74% support of Bush. In debates the two candidates tangled over abortion. In one case, on leaving the television studio, Landrieu said to Terrell, “This is your last campaign.” Terrell, taken aback, said, “She threatened me.” The candidates continued to argue about tax cuts, personnel rules for the Department of Homeland Security and privatizing government jobs. Then a Democratic opposition researcher made a propitious find—an article in the Mexican center-left newspaper Reforma reporting that the Bush administration had agreed with the Mexican government to double the amount of sugar that could be imported from Mexico, bad news for a major domestic sugar-producing state like Louisiana. The Office of Special Trade Representative and the State Department denied that any such agreement had been made. But Landrieu trumpeted the claim in ads and promised to do everything she could to stop any such agreement. It was a fine issue for Landrieu to use to document her claim that Terrell would be a “rubber stamp” for Bush, even though Terrell said she too opposed any deal. Landrieu met with trade and State Department officials in January 2003 and reported that she’d been assured there had not been a sugar deal with Mexico. The incident may have changed enough votes to give Landrieu her 52%-48% victory.
In her second term, Landrieu stepped into more national issues and into the limelight. As the ranking Democrat on the District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee, she insisted on restrictions on a program allowing D.C. parents to send their children to private schools on government vouchers. Voucher supporters ran an ad in the New Orleans newspaper saying, “My mom wants you to know that Sen. Mary Landrieu doesn’t want me to go to the same school where her children go.”
She supported oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, when it passed in March 2005, was one of three Democrats voting for it. (The others were the two senators from Hawaii.) In 2004, she won passage of an amendment eliminating the reduction in veterans’ widows’ pensions when they became eligible for Social Security. She isn’t shy about putting holds on legislation or threatening to filibuster bills to force action on her issues. In 2004, she filibustered a corporate tax bill for three days in support of an amendment to give tax credits to employers who make up lost pay for reservists and National Guard troops called to active duty. She ultimately accepted a compromise limiting the tax credit to companies with 50 or fewer workers.
In the 2004 campaign she endorsed neither of the two well-known Democrats running for retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux’s seat, but campaigned extensively around the state against Republican David Vitter. “Don’t send me a puppet to work with, send me a partner,” she said over and over. On Election Night, she had an abrupt conversation with Vitter, who, against expectations, won the seat with 51% of the vote. She called Vitter to tell him the second-place finisher, Democrat Chris John, was not conceding, kicking off a rocky working relationship between Louisiana’s two senators.
Hurricane Katrina forced them to grudgingly work together and put the outspoken Landrieu in the national spotlight as advocate for her state. “If my heart is a little heavy today, it’s because I’ve seen more in the last two weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life,” she said on her return from inspecting the damage to her home state and home city. Three of her siblings lost their homes to Katrina. In response to the post-hurricane comment by President Bush that nobody “anticipated the breach of the levees,” she said tartly, “Everybody anticipated the breach of the levees, Mr. President.” In early September, Landrieu said on national television that if anyone, including Bush, criticized the state and local government response to Katrina, “I might likely have to punch him. Literally.”
Six weeks after the catastrophe, she objected that Louisiana was being treated less sympathetically than had other states during emergencies. Vitter disagreed with her protest. “She needs to learn a little statesmanship. She’s been way too hotheaded,” local political analyst Elliott Stonecipher told the Baton Rouge Advocate. But the criticism did not deter Landrieu. In April 2006, she said that she would block every presidential nomination until Bush agreed to $6 billion for repair of Louisiana levees. When the Senate approved that money and more a few weeks later, Landrieu backed off her general threat, but vowed to block nominees at the Energy and Interior departments until there was agreement on using royalties from offshore oil and gas production to pay for coastal restoration and additional hurricane protection. She played a major role when that bill finally was enacted in December 2006. “It is the cornerstone that has been laid down to protect and rebuild the Gulf Coast,” she said.
In 2007, Landrieu complained of discrimination against Louisiana when the Federal Emergency Management Agency released $281 million for alternative housing in Mississippi. She promptly placed a hold on the nomination of the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, saying she would drop it only if she liked what he said after he visited the Gulf. She pushed Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to implement policies to take advantage of foreign aid during disasters like Katrina. Then in February 2008, she added tenant vouchers to her rebuilding bill, although Vitter objected to rebuilding public-housing projects that no one might live in. She worked to include some $5.8 billion in recovery projects in the supplemental appropriation in July 2008, along with $73 million for housing not requested by Vitter or the Bush administration.
In the closely divided Senate in 2007 and 2008, Landrieu cast some key votes. She was one of two Democrats to vote in March 2008 to reduce the estate tax, and she voted for Vitter's amendment to cut community-policing funds for cities that refuse to help enforce immigration laws. She cast the deciding vote in December 2007 against eliminating a tax deduction for oil companies and directing the money to alternative fuels. She called it “one-sided policymaking” that left “Louisiana industry footing the bill.” After hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit Louisiana, she sponsored a $1.2 billion farm disaster-relief bill, and threatened a filibuster until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, agreed to advance it. But in October 2008, the bill was stopped by an objection from Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who said the relief was duplicative.
Going into the 2008 election season, Republican strategists targeted Landrieu. Indeed, she was the only plausible target they could identify among incumbent Democratic senators. But they had difficulty finding a candidate. Rep. Richard Baker declined to run, as did Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. Then in August 2007, state Treasurer John Kennedy, who had run third, with 15% of the vote, in the 2004 Senate race, switched from the Democratic to the Republican party and announced he would challenge Landrieu in November.
Landrieu had already been busy fundraising, which enabled her to maintain a significant advantage in cash on hand. Kennedy criticized her for voting against ending the moratorium on oil-shale development. She called him a “confused politician” and said he’d mismanaged the treasurer’s office. Kennedy praised Coburn for blocking Landrieu’s farm disaster-aid bill, although it was supported by Vitter and Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain. The Landrieu campaign got endorsements from Republican local officials in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes and from former Republican Gov. David Treen. Landrieu won 52%-46%. She won the votes of 96% of African-Americans, 33% of whites and 42% of white independents, while Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won only 14% of whites and 21% of white independents. Landrieu won Orleans Parish with 84%, more than the 80% she’d won in the 2002 runoff. Her work on recovery issues evidently more than offset the decline in the number of black voters there. She won 52% in metro Baton Rouge, 1% more than in 2002, and 52% in the rest of the state, the same as in 2002.
In January 2009, Landrieu became chairman of the Small Business Committee. And, continuing her heavy involvement in hurricane recovery, she threatened in March 2009 to stop federal housing spending in New Orleans unless Mayor Ray Nagin accounted for millions of dollars in unspent and expiring federal grants.