Louisiana’s Messy Senate Race Could Hijack the Election: Welcome to the Jungle
Policy + Politics

Louisiana’s Messy Senate Race Could Hijack the Election: Welcome to the Jungle

  • Louisiana’s senate election is weird—it’s more like an open primary.
  • With a mandate to win 50 percent of the vote, a faceoff is likely.
  • If Louisiana is the decider, the lame ducks will be quacking. 

If Americans don’t know which party will control the Senate for the next two years when they wake up on November 5, the most likely culprit will be the state of Louisiana. Politics, as practiced in Louisiana, has always been a little different, so it should come as no surprise that the state’s elections don’t follow the rest of the country’s pattern.

While Louisiana voters will go to the polls to vote for Senate candidates on Nov. 4, they will be voting not in the general election, but in the state’s “jungle primary.” Rather than allow political parties to hold their own primaries, Louisiana requires that all candidates for Senate appear on the ballot that day, and unless one of them claims more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters will face off in a general election on December 6.

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With 10 candidates on the ballot, neither incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, nor her leading Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, is expected to pass the 50 percent threshold in November, making it virtually certain that they will meet in a head-to-head contest in December.

While Landrieu and Cassidy are the two dominant figures in the field, retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness, running as a Republican, appears to have a solid lock on about 8 percent of the electorate, and while he has no chance of winning, what his supporters decide to do in December may well decide the race.


Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu served in the state legislature and then as state Treasurer before being elected to the Senate in 1996. Landrieu chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – a vital position for a state as dependent on offshore oil drilling as Louisiana. She is also a member of a veritable political dynasty. Her father, Moon Landrieu, was Mayor of New Orleans and later Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, her brother, Mitch, a former state legislator and lieutenant governor, is the current Mayor of New Orleans.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) Bill Cassidy, a physician, has represented the state’s 6th Congressional District, which includes the capital, Baton Rouge, since 2009. Born in Illinois, Cassidy’s official bio states that he was raised in Baton Rouge. He went to college and medical school at Louisiana State, and enjoyed a successful career both as a physician and a university professor. A former Democrat, Cassidy came to politics later in life, winning a seat in the Louisiana State Senate in 2006.

Landrieu is running an incumbent’s campaign by stressing her ability to deliver for her constituents based on her seniority in the Senate. As chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she argues, she can protect the energy-related jobs that Louisiana depends. In a state where President Obama’s job approval numbers are in the 30s, she has been positioning herself as a centrist, who is not beholden to the president.

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Not surprisingly, Cassidy is running a pretty run of the mill challenger’s campaign. He is attacking Landrieu as someone who has become too comfortable in Washington – to the point of challenging her residency status in Louisiana. He relentlessly points out that her voting record tracks President Obama’s priorities, and that she voted in favor of the conservative bête noire, Obamacare.

When it comes to money, Landrieu has enjoyed the advantage of incumbency – and of name recognition. The sitting Senator’s campaign committee has spent almost as much money -- $8.5 million -- as her main opponent has raised, and still had $5.5 million in cash on hand at the beginning of August.

In the money chase, Cassidy has done very well for a challenger. He has spent only a little over $3 million so far, but as of early August actually had a slight edge over Landrieu in cash on hand, with $5.6 million available.


Polling - Louisiana Primary
Poll Landrieu Cassidy Maness
RCP Average 38 35.3 8 Landrieu +2.7
CBS News/NYT/YouGov 36 32 4 Landrieu +4
PPP (D) 42 34 12 Landrieu + 8
CNN/Opinion Research 43 40 9 Landrieu + 3
FOX News 31 35 7 Landrieu + 4
Source: Real Clear Politics

Polling - Louisiana Senate Race
Poll Landrieu Cassidy
RCP Average 48 42.4 Cassidy + 5.6
CBS News/NYT/YouGov 47 41 Cassidy + 6
PPP (D) 48 45 Cassidy +3
CNN/Opinion Research 50 47 Cassidy +3
Source: Real Clear Politics

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The wildcard in this race is what the roughly 8 percent of voters who are expected to cast a ballot for Maness in November decide to do in December. Right now, the polls show Cassidy leading in a head-to-head matchup against Landrieu. But Cassidy needs to persuade a lot of Maness voters, whose preferred candidate will no longer be on the ballot, to show up again in December to vote a second time – this time for him. Right now, the odds appear to be in his favor, and Republicans tend to have a turnout advantage in non-presidential election years. Still, it’s a bit of a bank shot for Cassidy, with plenty of room for error.

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