A week after Mary Landrieu lost her seat in the United States Senate to Congressman Bill Cassidy, several prominent Louisiana Democrats are hoping that the three-term Senator will become a candidate for Louisiana Governor. In 1995, a year before she was elected to the Senate, Landrieu finished in third place in the jungle primary for Louisiana Governor, missing the run-off election by only a point. Earlier this week, when asked if she would ever consider running again for the Senate or governor, Landrieu told reporters, “Oh Lord, no,” before then saying, “Well, let me say, I’m not going to say a definite ‘no’ about any of those two.”
Prior to Landrieu’s defeat on December 6th, many had speculated that her younger brother Mitch, the popular two-term Mayor of New Orleans and former Lieutenant Governor, was likely to jump in the race. But according to two sources close to the Mayor, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, he is more interested in working as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s all but certain bid for President than he is in launching his own campaign for Governor. Mitch and Mary’s father, Moon Landrieu, is the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
If Mary Landrieu were to enter the race for Louisiana Governor, she would join an already crowded field of established political heavyweights, including Senator David Vitter, Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, former Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, and State Representative John Bel Edwards. Currently, Vitter is the presumptive frontrunner, and Edwards, who announced his candidacy in February of 2013, is the only Democrat in the race.
“There is only one way next year’s elections become competitive for down-ticket Democratic candidates,” a prominent Democratic official told me, also on the condition of anonymity. “We need a Landrieu at the top of the ticket, preferably Mary. Mary is already known and supported by people from all over the state, and the election for Governor is completely different than the election for Senate. This won’t be about Obama. It’ll be about who can best deliver for the state, and it’ll be a different dynamic.”
It is worth noting that during her most recent re-election campaign, Senator Landrieu received endorsements from over 500 different elected officials from all over the state. No matter what your party affiliation is, you have to admit: That’s an impressive feat in a state as small as Louisiana.
Edwards, a West Point graduate and a veteran who has made his name in Louisiana politics by zealously criticizing Governor Jindal’s policies on education and health care, is an earnest yet pragmatic populist. But despite his sterling resume and the fact that he has been running for Governor for nearly two years, Edwards has struggled to break through as a candidate. Even though the most recent poll indicates that he is still mired in the low single digits, Edwards remains optimistic about his chances and the possibilities for Louisiana Democrats. “Six months is an eternity in politics,” he told me. “Two years is four eternities.”
Privately, while Louisiana Democrats seem to admire Edwards’s tenacity and his message, they remain reluctant to throw the full weight of their support behind his candidacy, holding out hope that someone with greater statewide name recognition and deeper pockets will enter the fold. “He has a winning message,” one official told me. “I’m just not sure he’s the winning messenger.” Fair or not, it is clear that many Louisiana Democrats hope to recruit another candidate in the race for the Governor’s Mansion, and perhaps not surprisingly, they are turning to the same family they have turned to since Moon won his first election to the State House in 1960.
After Mary Landrieu’s loss, several national commentators, most notably Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast, argued that the national Democratic Party should abandon the American South altogether. “With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good,” Tomasky wrote. “Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.” Suffice it to say, Southern Democrats didn’t take too kindly to Tomasky’s elitist dismissiveness.
Mary Landrieu’s loss had less to do with her record as a Southern Democrat and much more to do with her opponent’s relentless conflation of her with President Obama. We can debate the root causes of the President’s unpopularity in a state like Louisiana, but it has nothing to do with Mary Landrieu.
In a statement to CenLamar, State Representative Walt Leger III, who has quickly and quietly become one of Louisiana’s most influential and effective Democratic leaders, praised Mary Landrieu’s service. I didn’t ask Representative Leger for his thoughts on the possibility of Mary Landrieu running for Governor, and that’s not what his statement was about. But it is still an undeniably forceful endorsement of her record and her future in Louisiana. Quoting from Representative Leger (bold mine):
All too often we let our differences prevent us from moving Louisiana forward. We’ve got to come together and find common ground. That doesn’t mean compromising our beliefs, it just means working together to make them happen. And that means great candidates need to run for office, and the people of this state have to come to appreciate and vote for public servants who work to solve problems not with the end of growing political power for individuals or parties, but to grow power for our State and for our people. And that’s something Mary Landrieu knew how to do — she worked with her colleagues across the aisle and served with distinction. Just look at one of her greatest accomplishments, the Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act — to secure a fair share of offshore oil and gas revenues for Louisiana. This will begin to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to Louisiana for Coastal Restoration beginning in 2017. One can never forget her heroic efforts after Katrina and Rita, when Mary fought to get billions of dollars for rebuilding our region. She wrote a law that allowed hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster recovery loans to be forgiven for the people of Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, New Orleans and parishes all across of State of Louisiana. She simply never stopped working to restore our coast and stop our flood insurance rates from increasing. She is a Louisiana legend, and someone I truly believe will continue to serve our State admirably in the future in whatever she chooses to do.
Even David Vitter seems to agree. Two days ago, shortly after she delivered her farewell address to the Senate, Vitter said, “In all of this work, one thing is always crystal clear, certainly crystal clear to me, with Senator Landrieu: Louisiana has always been first in her heart and her top motivation.”
If Mary Landrieu decides to run against David Vitter for governor, that’s a quote she will hope voters commit to memory.