NEW: CNN projects Rep. Bill Cassidy will defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu
Some polls had her down by as much as 24 points to her GOP challenger
Sen. Mary Landrieu grew hoarse on the campaign trail Saturday.
The Louisiana Democrat had been shouting all week, rallying her supporters at campaign events up and down the state, fighting to hold off a challenge from Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy to the bitter end.
“The national race is over, but honey, our race is not over” she cried at a campaign rally on the eve of the runoff election.
But there was every indication that nobody’s listening.
Saturday morning, when she arrives to vote, only four cameras are there to capture the moment, compared with what one staffer described as a gaggle 50-strong during the November 4 vote.
Landrieu has trailed in every public poll of the race. Most recently, in a poll out this week from Republican firm WPA Research, she was down by 24 points. Early voting among African-Americans, a voting bloc key to her chances for a win, was down, but Republican early voting was up.
With Republicans locking down control of the Senate in the November elections, Louisiana lost some of its urgency for national Democrats. The National Democratic Senatorial Committee withdrew its investment early on in the runoff and left her to fend for herself, as did most of the major Democratic spending groups.
The lopsided fight frustrates Landrieu, who on Friday, unprompted, chastised the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for having “abandoned us.”
“I just don’t believe in leaving a soldier on the field, and that’s what they did,” she says.
Landrieu tries to turn the tide
Even on Saturday morning, Landrieu insisted despite the lack of support, she still had a chance, noting there’s a precedent for her to orchestrate an unexpected, come-from-behind win.
“The first race I ran 18 years ago – the same pundits said, the tide has turned, you cannot win, no Democrat can win in the South. Eighteen years ago they said that, and we did” win, Landrieu remembers.
In 2002, too, she pulled off a runoff win. Then, like now, she seized on a niche issue – then it was a trade deal that would hurt farmers in the state, now it’s a dispute over Cassidy’s work for Louisiana State University – to help boost her campaign in its last moments.
But this time, Louisiana political observers say the issue broke too late for it to gain much traction.
And the political tides have grown increasingly difficult for the senator during her time in office. The South has become increasingly red, and Landrieu is now the last remaining statewide elected Democrat in Louisiana, and the last Democratic senator in the Deep South.
President Barack Obama remains deeply unpopular in Louisiana, and Republicans have successfully made the race a referendum on him, even as Landrieu focuses on her record.
GOP candidate keeps low-profile in past weeks
Still, it’s probably a good thing for Cassidy that few were listening to the race.
The congressman has been described as “awkward” and “really weird” by the press and his detractors. He’s kept his campaign appearances to a minimum in the runoff – spending nearly all of the last week of the campaign in Washington – to reduce the chances, many speculate, that his unusual personal style could stymie his near-certain win.
That style is on full display during one of his two final campaign rallies on Friday. Out front of the event, he escalates to an unexpected, gleeful shout while thanking a supporter for voting for him.
Telling a reporter that the reason Republicans have gained so much strength in the South is the fact that “they’re the party for working families,” citing the GOP’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline as an example, and he points a finger to the sky and raises his chin as though sermonizing.
Deflecting a question on why he hasn’t been in the state all week, Cassidy tangles himself in the kinds of knots that have wound up in Democratic attack ads.
“It is the story that I’m doing my job as a congressman – because people want to question me as to whether or not I’m doing my job as a doctor – I’ve always shown up wherever I’ve been asked to be. And when I show up where I’m asked where I’m supposed to be is now a story … because people ask me what,” he says.
Cassidy pauses, then adds: “You see the paradox.”
Asked about the evaluation made by others of his personal style, Cassidy brushes them off as unfounded bias from reporters who “read what other reporters have said and they write what the other reporters have said.”
Democrats are already starting to look past her loss Saturday toward 2016 as an opportunity to right the ship. Mitch Landrieu, the senator’s brother and mayor of New Orleans, told a group of reporters Friday night that as soon as they start focusing on 2016, the “environment is going to start changing all across America.”
“On Monday morning, the whole story’s gonna be different,” Mitch Landrieu promised a group of reporters during Landrieu’s Friday night event.
He later added, “There’s always another day.”