By Robert Mann
Former President Bill Clinton, who was in Baton Rouge last Monday to campaign for Sen. Mary Landrieu, has scorned the attacks on her as someone too liberal for Louisiana. Clinton argued that the three-term Democratic senator would “be winning this race by 10 or 15 or 20 points but for the difficulty of the moment in which we’re living.”
I’m not sure about those percentages. Landrieu always has tough reelection races and this is her toughest. Yet, Clinton’s basic point is valid. Midterm elections are not only a referendum on specific incumbents but also the party in power. In this case, Landrieu’s Democratic Party holds the White House and its occupant is almost as unpopular in Louisiana as Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Perhaps Clinton simply meant that Landrieu, as one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats, might not be in trouble were she running as an independent or a moderate Republican.
So, I asked myself, “Why didn’t Landrieu just change parties?” In a close election, wouldn’t that give her an advantage? Piffle, you say. The state’s Republicans would never send a former Democrat to the U.S. Senate.
To that I would say, that is precisely what they may do. You see, Landrieu’s main Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, is no lifelong, rock-ribbed conservative. Not that long ago, he was a Democrat who supported Landrieu in her first re-election campaign.
Several of those who worked closely with Cassidy in the 1990s and early 2000s at Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge tell me they distinctly remember him as a passionate Democrat.
I met Cassidy in the fall of 2006, when he came to my LSU office for advice on his run for the state Senate. When he left, I was persuaded that he was, at heart, a Democrat.
I had first heard of Cassidy in September 2003, when he published a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate, attacking Jindal, who was running for governor against Democrat Kathleen Blanco. “For those whose concern about health care goes beyond cutting budgets,” Cassidy wrote, “the Jindal record is poor.”
In fact, Cassidy did more to help Blanco than attack Jindal. He gave her campaign $2,000. Only the year before, Cassidy even supported Landrieu’s Senate re-election, contributing $500 to her 2002 campaign.
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