BATON ROUGE, La. – The Republican Party, already assured of Senate control, is mounting a determined campaign to oust freshman Sen. Mary Landrieu in a Louisiana runoff next month and deal another blow to discouraged Democrats.
The GOP is expected to send money, Vice President Dick Cheney and perhaps President Bush to Louisiana before the Dec. 7 runoff between Landrieu and Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell.
Dan Allen, spokesman for National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Friday a Terrell victory would be a coup.
"It's important because it allows Republicans to have another senator who will work with the president to get things done," he said.
His Democratic counterpart, Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, said retaining Landrieu will be key in cases where the Senate is "split right down the middle."
"Being a moderate, she will play a powerful role," Ravitz-Meehan said.
Neither would say how much money will be sent to Louisiana. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., predicted as much as $15 million could be spent on the runoff.
A Terrell win would boost the GOP's advantage in the Senate to 52-47, with one independent, and bolster the Republicans' argument that the South now belongs to them. Louisiana hasn't had a Republican senator since Reconstruction.
Landrieu was forced into the runoff when she failed to win a majority in the state's unique open primary Nov. 5. On a ballot crowded with Republicans, Landrieu got 46 percent and Terrell, the state elections commissioner, was second with 27 percent.
Now voters in the last undecided Senate race must choose between candidates arguing over how much they support President Bush. Landrieu says she votes with him only when she agrees with his policies, while labeling Terrell a "rubber stamp" for the president.
The candidates agree on issues such as the war on terrorism and prescription drug coverage for Medicare. Terrell says she opposes abortion; Landrieu backs abortion rights. Both support the rights of gun owners.
Louisiana Republicans have yet to unite behind Terrell, a 48-year-old lawyer. Rep. John Cooksey, who finished third in the primary, withheld his endorsement, saying Terrell may have been involved in a "smear campaign" tying him to support of homosexual rights. She denied the charge
GOP Gov. Mike Foster has not backed Terrell, either, saying ads that claimed Landrieu lives in a Washington mansion amounted to "class warfare." Terrell said the ads were placed by the national Republicans.
Landrieu, 46, has had her own problems. Three black state legislators have claimed she takes the black vote — traditionally about a third of the total — for granted. Among them is Cleo Fields, who has been angry since Landrieu refused to back his failed run for governor seven years ago.
Landrieu carried the lawmakers' districts last week. But she would like to boost the black turnout, which was about 35 percent during the primary.
Elliott Stonecipher, an independent political consultant in Shreveport, said Landrieu needs only to hold on to her white voter base and get more blacks to the polls. "If she does that, she wins," he said.
Consultant Roy Fletcher, who worked on the Cooksey campaign, disagreed.
"She can't attract white voters by getting on television and saying she supported the NAACP 92 percent of the time," he said. "How does she attract blacks by saying she voted with Bush over 70 percent of the time?"
After spending the primary defending herself from ads that labeled her a tax-and-spend Democrat, Landrieu has decided to trumpet her experience and get tough on Terrell in an effort to stir voter interest.
"She says we spend too much money," Landrieu told a crowd in Baton Rouge recently. "I've got a list of 50 projects — $4 million for the Pennington Center here, $12 million for LSU, $2 million for Southern, more money for children. What is it, Commissioner Terrell, that you object to?"
Landrieu noted that she was addressing an audience of blacks, whites and schoolchildren while her opponent was meeting with an "outside special-interest group."
At the time, Terrell was in New Orleans receiving the endorsement of the National Taxpayers Union, a Washington group that supports candidates who want reduced government spending. Terrell stressed her support for making permanent $1.35 trillion in tax cuts enacted last year and for abolishing the estate tax — two major goals of the president.
Terrell has denied she will blindly back Bush but said she fully expects to support the majority in the Senate.