Mary Landrieu and the Art of Backing Away

The Democratic senator can’t run from her record of support for the Affordable Care Act. But she can distance herself.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) leaves the U.S. Capitol for a meeting with the rest of the Senate Democratic conference and U.S. President Barack Obama on the government shutdown and debt limit increase October 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Speaker of the House John Boehner said earlier today that he is prepared to offer a short-term increase in the debt limit in a separate meeting later today with Obama.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
Nov. 18, 2013, 3:19 p.m.

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.”

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