Since the summer, Republicans in Washington and Louisiana have been quietly pooling their resources to launch a coordinated attack against Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of 2014's most vulnerable Democrats — something that until this cycle had gone untried, GOP officials said.
The effort, which will be known as Project: Geaux Red, will formally launch in February in Baton Rouge and effectively means that the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the state GOP will operate from the same playbook.
Since July, when five RNC staffers headed to Louisiana, the committee has organized hundreds of volunteers, according to spokesman Michael Short. In the past, Republicans adopted a regional approach to campaigns, but as part of the party's 2012 postmortem, officials decided to switch to a precinct-based approach — modeled on President Obama's second campaign.
The party's efforts also include meeting with African-American communities and trumpeting the GOP message, Short said.
"The project will be the most expansive voter-outreach effort to date, and we already have staff, volunteers, and resources organized at the precinct level to empower activists and engage with voters across the state," Geaux Red spokesman Ryan Cross said, declining to give details about how much would be spent.
That may be true, but Louisiana Democrats are effectively saying: So what? Landrieu has known all along that the GOP has a target on her back.
"Republicans are playing catch-up," said Andrew Zucker, a spokesman for Louisiana Democrats.
The effort comes as the Affordable Care Act rollout is sending spasms through the Louisiana Senate race. Landrieu's approval rating has dropped nearly 10 points to 47 percent, according to a recent poll, and she's mounted an aggressive response to the troubled launch of the legislation. Before the Senate left for its two-week Thanksgiving recess, Landrieu introduced legislation aimed at delivering on Obama's broken promise that Americans who liked their health plans could keep them.
Although it's true that Landrieu is vulnerable in ruby-red Louisiana, Republicans have yet to coalesce entirely around Rep. Bill Cassidy's candidacy. Cassidy faces a challenge on his political right from retired airman Rob Maness, who's earned the support of the Senate Conservatives Fund, and Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has not yet endorsed anyone in the contest.
"You're trying to send the signal that you're all on the same page, and yet the governor hasn't endorsed?" said Bob Mann, a former Democratic congressional aide and current journalism professor at Louisiana State University.
Landrieu won her last two reelection bids in part by outspending her GOP opponents, whom observers criticized as weak candidates. The decisive factor, Mann said, wasn't so much the parties' organization as it was the candidates themselves.
This time, though, Republicans are betting that a serious investment in organization will pay off. Normally the GOP would have waited until June 2014 to hire a state director, Short said. This year, the party is essentially a year ahead of schedule.
But there's a realization that beating Landrieu, who's already raised nearly $9 million and has $6 million in cash on hand, is a daunting task — even in a state Obama lost in 2012 by 17 points.
"It's not to say that beating Landrieu will be a cakewalk," Short said.