Later this week, Southern Media & Opinion Research is expected to release the first independent poll assessing the matchup between Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican opponents in next year's Senate race in Louisiana.
For Landrieu, the poll will illuminate whether her Obamacare strategy is working, or whether the health care law is going to define her race and hurt her prospects. While the poll will be conducted by the independent organization, GOP businessman Lane Grigsby is funding the survey, according to sources in the Landrieu campaign.
"Up until now the issue was manageable for her," said Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis. "But now I just think that — not just Louisiana but everywhere — the atmosphere is pretty toxic. Obama's always been unpopular [in the state], but now "¦ if the election were held today I think she'd be a goner."
Landrieu can't run from her record of support for the Affordable Care Act, which is under attack thanks to a dysfunctional website, poor enrollment, and widespread insurance cancellations. But she can distance herself from President Obama and his signature legislative achievement — and some say she's trying.
Evidence that Landrieu was moving in that direction presented itself recently when she exited a closed-door Democratic luncheon in the Capitol and walked up to the microphone in the Ohio Clock corridor usually reserved for leadership. While Democratic leaders have backed the administrative "fix" to the law proposed by the White House, contending that no legislation is needed, Landrieu made the case for her own bill, which lets policyholders keep their current plans.
"Anybody that wants to work with me or anybody else to fix it, I'll be willing," she said.
The stakes are high heading into 2014 for Senate Democrats and Landrieu herself, who has drawn opposition from Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and conservative candidate Rob Maness. Her reelection effort, along with that of three other Senate Democrats, has been among the most closely watched of the cycle.
Americans for Prosperity has begun airing ads against Landrieu in Louisiana — Maginnis described them as relentless — linking her to the president and the Affordable Care Act. "I think that's just a taste of what's to come," Maginnis said.
Democrats, however, point to Landrieu's war chest. With nearly $6 million in cash on hand to Cassidy's $3.5 million, Landrieu is well-positioned to take on her well-heeled opponents, they argue.
While the anti-Obamacare strain is strong in Louisiana, Landrieu's camp points to the victory of Republican Vance McAllister in the special election for Louisiana's 5th Congressional District over GOP state Sen. Neil Riser. McAllister, who won the support of a star on A&E's Duck Dynasty, was cast as a pragmatist. He told voters that although he opposes the law, repeal would likely be impossible given the political composition in Washington.
Some analysts say that's a sign that voters won't elect candidates who call exclusively for repeal.
Landrieu welcomed McAllister to the delegation in a statement and said she looks forward to finding "common ground" with the newly-elected congressman, according to The Times-Picayune. Still, with Democratic leadership unwilling at the moment to put her legislation on the floor for a vote, Landrieu's options to mitigate the damage are limited, analysts say.
"The problem is kind of above her pay grade right now," Maginnis said. "It's going to depend on people's reactions to the Affordable Care Act."
Recently Landrieu skipped an event when Obama traveled to her home state, which led to media speculation that she was avoiding the president for political reasons. But Landrieu recoils at the notion.
"I flew down with him," she told reporters. "And I waved from the top of the steps. Did you see me with that big smile? Now did I hide from him? Did you see me hide from him? Was I smiling and waving with the president? If I wanted to hide I wouldn't have been there."