By Robert Mann
It’s now clear that Sen. Mary Landrieu’s relentless talk about her clout took a big hit in Tuesday’s election. Not only has much of her power vanished along with the Democrats’ Senate majority; her message about what she has done for Louisiana did not resonate with voters.
If Landrieu ekes out a surprising, narrow win in her Dec. 6 runoff with Rep. Bill Cassidy, she might give thanks for Tuesday’s rebuke, which will force her to talk about something that really matters to voters.
As I have written before, reminding voters disgusted with Congress about one’s Washington seniority was not a winning message. Cassidy had the more effective pitch, which was, essentially, “Elect me and I will vote against Barack Obama 100 percent of the time.”
Landrieu’s clout message might have worked a generation ago, but an older, whiter electorate was more interested in punishing President Obama than embracing Landrieu and all her power.
Perhaps Landrieu had polling data that suggested a message about her clout was potent. If so, based on Tuesday’s results, she needs a new pollster. She might even need a new media consultant. Whatever the case, she must retool her message and began speaking more to voters’ real-life concerns.
On election night, Landrieu moved quickly to refocus her message. Recognizing that Cassidy is the clear frontrunner, she challenged him to six debates and unveiled a website that hits him on a range of pocketbook issues important to the voters she most needs in December.
Does Landrieu have any route to victory? Not likely. If she does, however, it may be in a little-noticed poll conducted in mid-October by Democracy Corps, a Democratic organization headed by pollster Stanley Greenberg and political strategist James Carville. The two surveyed 1,000 white likely Louisiana voters, including a subset of 456 persuadable white likely voters.
Democracy Corps tested a series of messages by Cassidy and Landrieu. Among the more resonant messages for Landrieu were those about Cassidy’s support for raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 (an issue Landrieu has discussed in her TV spots) and Cassidy’s votes against a bipartisan plan to protect victims of domestic violence and his opposition to guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work.
In this poll, the worst message, by far, for Landrieu was about her power and influence. On the other hand, messages about Social Security, Medicare and women’s issues resonated with about 70 percent of those persuadable white voters.
“The strongest comparative between Landrieu and Cassidy centers on women’s issues – Landrieu’s support for equal pay, ending insurance discrimination and making college affordable versus Cassidy’s votes against equal pay, the Violence Against Women Act and preventative health care for women,” Carville and Greenberg write.
Perhaps Landrieu’s strategists didn’t see this survey. They have certainly seen the election returns. They now know it’s time for a hard reset.
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