Politics & Policy

Landrieu’s Ugly Exit

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
As her prospects dim, she’s fighting dirty, peddling lies and racial animosity.

Senator Mary Landrieu comes from a political dynasty in Louisiana — her father was mayor of New Orleans, and her brother is the current mayor. But as she heads into Saturday’s runoff election as a clear underdog, she is tarnishing her political inheritance by fighting ugly. She is resorting to lies and distortion to accuse her GOP opponent of backing the impeachment of President Obama and endorsing a documentary that, as she describes it, says slavery was better for blacks than welfare.

“Landrieu has flailed, veering from one issue to another,” concluded a Washington Post article this Thursday. When it hasn’t been haphazard, her campaign has been, at best, factually challenged.

Take the following radio ad airing on African-American stations, approved by Landrieu and paid for by the Democratic State Committee of Louisiana:

I’m Mary Landrieu, candidate for Senate, and I approve this message.

Man: News flash — Bobby Jindal endorses Bill Cassidy 100 percent. That troubles me. Jindal, our absentee governor, and Doc Cassidy, a medical doctor, oppose affordable health care for working families. These millionaire Republicans are against equal pay for women and have opposed the Violence against Women Act. And can you believe, Doc Cassidy has endorsed a documentary that claims slavery was better for black folks than welfare.

Woman: Oh, no, he didn’t!

Man: Yeah, well he sure did, my friends. But worse than that, Cassidy and Jindal are trying to impeach our president. Back in the day, there was a TV cowboy named Hopalong Cassidy. I don’t know if they’re related, but why don’t you just hop along, Doctor Cassidy, to wherever your No, 1 supporter, Bobby Jindal, is headed this week, and let Senator Landrieu continue doing a great job for the people of Louisiana?

Cassidy/Jindal — bad for Louisiana, disastrous for black families.

Paid for by the Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana.

A Landrieu campaign aide told BuzzFeed.com that the slavery analogy was based on Cassidy’s appearance in the 2010 film A New America. Cassidy didn’t address slavery, but African-American syndicated columnist Star Parker did. A former single mother who spent years on welfare, Parker appears in the film and attacks the “government poverty plantation.” “With slavery, people generally want out,” she said. “But with welfare, folks are comfortable.”

Tough words, but hardly an endorsement of slavery. Parker is appalled at how Landrieu “dug into the gutter” to try to save her Senate seat. “I did not say slavery was better. I did say that the same political party that enslaved blacks 150 years ago is now full of overseers who ensure that no discussion of freedom from welfare is conducted in African-American communities.”

As for impeachment, another radio ad approved by Landrieu claims that Governor Jindal and Cassidy have “disrespected” President Obama. “If Cassidy wins, they will impeach him.” Neither man has embraced impeachment, but facts are immaterial to Landrieu. Her evidence for Cassidy’s “disrespect” of Obama is that “he refers to him by his last name, constantly.” Instead, he should always refer to him as President Obama.

The desperation of Landrieu’s campaign doesn’t stop there. Donald Cravins Sr., the mayor of Opelousas and the father of Landrieu’s chief-of-staff, was caught on videotape last month addressing a crowd just before the first round of voting in the Senate race: “If you early-voted, go vote again tomorrow. One more time’s not going to hurt.” Just in case anyone doubted that Cravins was serious, he told the crowd they had an insurance policy: The local prosecutor would look the other way: “Tomorrow we’re going to elect Earl Taylor as the D.A., so he won’t prosecute you if you vote twice,” he assured the crowd. When criticized for these remarks, Cravins says he was “joking.”

It’s ironic that the issue of voter fraud should enter Louisiana’s Senate race in 2014, given that in Landrieu’s first election in 1996 it also played a role. She won that year by 5,788 votes over Republican Woody Jenkins. Journalist Quin Hillyer noted that she was helped by “boatloads of gambling money turning out liberal voters to support a referendum for a land-based casino.”

Morris Reed remembers the 1996 casino cash well. A former judge, the African-American Reed was one of two Democrats on the same ballot running for district attorney in New Orleans. Reed, who crusaded against corruption, lost to the longtime incumbent, a white man who was nonetheless backed by the local black political machines. Reed claimed that gambling interests financed the use of dozens of vans to pick up New Orleans voters, pay them, and then haul them from one voting precinct to another to vote. Then New Orleans mysteriously became the only one of 64 parishes to violate state law in that election by opening all of its voting machines without any candidate present as a witness. Reed told me in 1996 that there was no doubt Landrieu’s victory was questionable given the dozens of irregularities, some of which led a New Orleans assistant city attorney to resign in protest.

Senator Landrieu began her Senate career under a cloud in 1997 — she was seated only provisionally owing to the controversies swirling around the New Orleans vote. Now, nearly two decades later, it appears she will be leaving office under a different cloud — an ugly, dark campaign that invents facts, stirs up racial animus, and distorts reality. If she loses, it will be a shame that she couldn’t have exited stage left with more grace and less vitriol.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.

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