WASHINGTON – With Louisiana's Senate run-off election just four days away, President Bush led the GOP charge Tuesday for Republican candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell in what polls now suggest is a toss-up race against freshman Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
"For the good of everybody in Louisiana, Suzie Terrell needs to be the next U.S. senator," Bush told supporters at a fund-raiser in New Orleans that was expected to raise $1.25 million.
The fund-raiser and an earlier Shreveport rally resembled the kind of boisterous campaign stops frequented by the president prior to Election Day, which registered big successes for Republicans, who kept the House and won back the Senate in a history-making victory.
Having registered the win, Bush has been robbed of the get-out-the-vote incentive that drew voters to the polls last month. Instead, the president urged Louisiana's voters to build on the newfound Republican majority and transcend what he called "political bickering" in the nation's capital.
"We need an attitude of cooperation. Oh, I expect there to be independent voices in Washington, D.C., and no question about her, she's an independent voice. She kind of tells you what's on her mind. But it's an attitude that's important." he said.
For her part, Landrieu called the high-profile Republican campaigning on behalf of her opponent — including visits from Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican Senator-elect Elizabeth Dole — "overkill."
But in less than a month, Landrieu has watched a double digit lead in most polls vanish.
After winning 46 percent to Terrell's 27 percent in the nine-candidate field — not enough to pass the 50 percent threshold for a win, according to Louisiana state law — the latest University of New Orleans survey shows Landrieu in a statistical dead heat, with 44 percent supporting her compared to 43 percent backing Terrell. Thirteen percent is still undecided.
Crucial to Landrieu's fortunes is whether black voters, who support her by a 75 percent to 10 percent ratio according to the poll, will turn out in sufficient numbers.
African-American turnout was light on Election Day — about 35 percent of blacks voted though they represent 30 percent of Louisiana's vote — so Landrieu has enlisted Louisiana native Donna Brazile, former Vice President Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager who specializes in energizing minority voters.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is also expected to campaign for Landrieu on the eve of Saturday's election. He will be the only nationally-recognized Democrat to campaign in the run-off for Landrieu, who urged Gore, Democrats in Congress and the Clintons to stay away.
Another decisive factor rests on whether Terrell, the state's elections commissioner and a former New Orleans City Council member, can prove her pro-life credentials are strong enough for Louisiana's Catholic voters. Both Terrell and Landrieu are Catholic, but Landrieu supports a woman's right to choose.
She still calls herself pro-life, however, because she opposes abortion on principal.
"I am as pro-life on this issue as anybody else because I believe in adoption," Landrieu said in a televised debate held Monday night.
When Landrieu gave similar abortion responses to the Louisiana's Catholic Conference of Bishops, they refused to publish her answers calling them inconsistent with her voting record and potentially misleading to voters.
But Terrell too has been criticized on abortion, for being not pro-life enough. Two weeks ago, she pledged to back a constitutional ban on all abortion, but now she says some exceptions are warranted.
And while Landrieu is being cast as a liberal vote, she understands the president's popularity and has consistently emphasized her support for the president on tax cuts and action in Iraq.
Terrell blasted Landrieu at the debate as a liberal Washington insider who's lost touch with Louisiana values. Landrieu counters that Terrell is inexperienced, and puts right-wing politics ahead of Louisiana voters.
While Bush appealed to voters at Terrell's $1,000-per-plate fund-raiser, Landrieu served red beans and rice to unemployed port workers on the docks of Baton Rouge.
Terrell's history with Bush dates back to the late 1990s when she was one of the first Republicans to travel to Austin, Texas, to convince the then-governor to run for president. She helped lead his successful Louisiana campaign. If she wins, she will be the first Republican to be elected to the Senate from the state. A Republican was appointed a Senate seat after Reconstruction.
She will also solidify the Republican majority, which currently controls the incoming Senate 51 to 47 votes with one Democratic-leaning independent.
If Landrieu keeps the seat, it will be a psychological victory for Democrats who have been demoralized since their November losses.
The president's visit was the first time he has been to Shreveport since Sept. 11, 2001, when Air Force One was diverted to Barksdale Air Force Base.
Fox News' James Rosen, Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.