Republicans, Eyeing Landrieu’s Seat, Expanding Ground Game in Louisiana

Efforts to unseat three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu are being coordinated by GOP organizers in-state and in Washington.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) (2nd L) talks with a reporter outside the Senate chamber, on Capitol Hill March 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate is scheduled to vote on amendments to the budget resolution on Friday afternoon and into the evening. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Dec. 9, 2013, 5:18 p.m.

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.

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