Red-State Senate Dems Followed Different Playbooks During Showdown

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Landrieu is part of a Louisiana political dynasty. Her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s, and her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the city's current mayor. But Landrieu's 1995 run for governor was anything but a coronation. She finished a disappointing third place in the primary. But she recovered quickly, winning her Senate seat the following year.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Oct. 18, 2013, 1:48 p.m.

The shut­down and debt-lim­it drama on Cap­it­ol Hill saw Sen­ate Demo­crats united, vot­ing as a bloc with Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id to re­ject each le­gis­lat­ive at­tack from the House.

But with­in in that paradigm, four red-state Demo­crats fol­lowed their own play­book, ad­just­ing their re­sponse to suit their needs and show­ing that there’s more than one way to ap­proach reelec­tion in a hos­tile polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment.

Some made fiery floor speeches aimed at House Re­pub­lic­ans. Oth­ers lied low, but hammered home the eco­nom­ic ef­fects of the shut­down. All stuck with Re­id throughout, de­fy­ing Re­pub­lic­an pre­dic­tions that they would break ranks and crack Re­id’s 54-seat ma­jor­ity.

“Nobody wins in a shut­down, but for red-state Demo­crats be­ing against it to be­gin with, that’s something that they don’t have to apo­lo­gize for,” said a former Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee aide.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had per­haps the sharpest rhet­or­ic­al barbs in the bunch. Fa­cing a chal­lenge from con­ser­vat­ive Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, R-La., who voted against the com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion writ­ten by Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky., Landrieu slammed House Re­pub­lic­ans.

“No mat­ter what they have said, their ac­tions are ir­re­spons­ible, reck­less, and neither the pres­id­ent nor the Demo­crats should enter in­to ne­go­ti­ation with a gun to our con­stitu­ents’ heads,” she said on the Sen­ate floor soon after the shut­down.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas faces fresh­man GOP con­gress­man and Ir­aq War vet­er­an Tom Cot­ton in what could be the toughest Sen­ate cam­paign of 2014. Pry­or’s ap­proach seemed tailored to the polit­ic­al con­test he’s fa­cing: He slammed the House for be­ing overly polit­ic­al, then moved to the middle by join­ing the bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that in the late stages of the crisis tried to pound out an agree­ment that could clear Con­gress and win the pres­id­ent’s sig­na­ture.

“You go down the hall to the House and what you see down there is ‘my way or the high­way’ polit­ics,” Pry­or said on the floor earli­er this month. “My fel­low Amer­ic­ans, know it is true that these are dead-end polit­ics. It is lead­ing us nowhere.”

Pry­or also ap­peared on CNN and cri­ti­cized House Re­pub­lic­ans for their role in the shut­down. “We have a small group of Re­pub­lic­ans that are kind of driv­ing the train, es­pe­cially on the House side, and it’s very un­for­tu­nate,” he said.

At the oth­er end of the spec­trum, was Sen. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, who largely kept a low pro­file throughout the shut­down and debt-lim­it de­bate. Hagan did rise once to speak on the floor, but un­like Landrieu and Pry­or, whose op­pon­ents are mem­bers of the Con­gress, Hagan’s op­pon­ent is North Car­o­lina state House Speak­er Thom Tillis.

Hagan tailored her speech to fo­cus on the pain the shut­down in­flic­ted on her state. Rather than un­leash a tor­rent of in­cen­di­ary rhet­or­ic, she fo­cused on vet­er­ans be­ne­fits and med­ic­al re­search.

“So I ask, is it worth put­ting med­ic­al ad­vances and thou­sands of jobs at risk just to play a tired polit­ic­al game?” Hagan asked on the floor. “No.”

Sen. Mark Be­gich of Alaska also by­passed polit­ic­al rhet­or­ic to fo­cus on the ef­fects of the shut­down in his home state. On the floor, Be­gich’s strategy in­cluded en­ter­ing in­to to col­loquies with his red-state col­league, Sen. Jon Test­er of Montana, who re­cently won reelec­tion, and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Ore­gon.

Be­gich, who’s made his repu­ta­tion vot­ing as a mod­er­ate and fo­cus­ing on is­sues im­port­ant to ruby-red Alaska, even ap­pro­pri­ated some of the GOP’s own lan­guage in the de­bate, soften­ing the ad­versari­al tone used by Re­id and Demo­crat­ic lead­ers.

“As my col­leagues on the oth­er side like to say, we are just try­ing to find a solu­tion,” Be­gich said last Sunday. “Every day we wait is an­oth­er day we are ship­ping jobs over­seas, and here is a clear ex­ample.”

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