WASHINGTON – Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's political fate, and the partisan makeup of the U.S. Senate, may not be decided until a month after Election Day.
Landrieu, who is running for a second term, kicked off her re-election bid this week, but having received 50 percent in the last election, some political analysts are wondering whether she will have to go to a December runoff against one of her three rivals in the election.
That could happen because Louisiana puts all qualified candidates on the general election ballot, regardless of party. Whoever breaks 50 percent and gets the most votes wins.
But if no one tops 50 percent, the top two finishers advance to a runoff scheduled for Dec. 7.
If Landrieu can be forced into a December runoff, after the rest of the nation's elections are over, Republicans say they will be able to focus exclusively on Landrieu, even involve President Bush, and have a better chance of finishing her off then. They already are focusing on the campaign with a series of attack ads.
Of course, no one is able to predict how the Senate will shake out after the November election, or if there will still be a one-seat margin giving Democrats the edge.
However, Republicans are taking no chances, and in order to hold Landrieu below the 50 percent marker, they are seeking to carve up her support with a crowded field.
Right now, GOP Rep. John Cooksey, Republican State Election Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrel and Republican state Rep. Tony Perkins are all in the race.
And despite a comfortable lead of 33 points in the most recent poll, Landrieu falls short of that magic 50 percent mark.
But if that were not enough for Landrieu to worry about, Louisiana's popular Republican Gov. Mike Foster is weighing a jump into the political pond.
The 72-year-old term-limited governor has been pressured by the White House, powerful Republicans nationwide and even some Louisiana Democrats to challenge Landrieu.
The deadline to join the race, however, is Friday, Aug. 23.
During his weekly call-in radio show this week, Foster said he still has not made up his mind, but would run "if I can win and these other three candidates can't."
Foster is a harsh critic of liberal judges and said he wants Republicans to control the Senate, which approves presidential nominees to the bench.
"The only issue is about whether we want the country to be able to appoint decent judges and not have gridlock up there," he said.
Louisiana insiders say they just don't know what Foster will decide. Foster himself has pointed out that he has another full year left in his term as Louisiana governor, and says candidly that he prefers to stay in Louisiana because he doesn't like Washington.