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Louisiana Senate, 1996: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

By Stuart Rothenberg

A couple of months ago, I wouldn't have given a nickel for Republican Woody Jenkins' chances of overturning his November loss to Democrat Mary Landrieu. Now I might even give you a dime. That's still not much, but the change does reflect recent developments in the United States Senate, which give new hope to Jenkins' supporters and new reason for concern by Landrieu and her Democratic colleagues.

While Landrieu was certified by the Louisiana secretary of state (a Republican, incidentally) as the winner of the state's 1996 Senate race and seated by the United States Senate, Jenkins continues to argue that massive vote fraud, supported by an allegedly corrupt Louisiana politician and his organization, denied him of a victory that he earned.

But the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by Sen. John Warner (R-VA), decided not to accept the findings of a bipartisan team of attorneys, Democrat Bob Bauer and Republican Bill Canfield, who conducted an inquiry into Jenkins' charges before recommending to the committee that it continue with a "preliminary" and "limited" investigation.

I assumed -- as did other Congress-watchers and pundits -- that Warner, a GOP moderate, wouldn't want the Louisiana Senate inquiry to drag on for months, especially if it enhanced the chances that Jenkins, whose views place him at the conservative end of the Republican party, would become a member of the Senate, where he could make Warner's life miserable. But Warner joined all of the other Republicans on the committee in voting to begin a much broader investigation of the Louisiana Senate race than Bauer and Canfield had recommended. And Warner appointed a Republican-dominated team of attorneys to pursue the investigation.

Democrats are clearly angry about the committee's decision, and Landrieu appears to be a bit shaken by the developments. For the moment, however, they can only sit by, watch and wait.

But while Jenkins has met with unexpected success to this point and could ultimately change the way elections in Louisiana are conducted (some observers in the state are suggesting that New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, whose political organization is a powerhouse in the city, could be the big loser after the investigation), it's still not clear that the Senate will ever seat the Republican.

In order for Jenkins to win his argument, the Senate would have to vote to remove Landrieu and seat him. That means Democrats could mount a filibuster, arguing that the Republicans were simply involved in a political power play to add to their majority. In addition, they'd likely portray any Republican effort as an assault against women, since Landrieu is one of only a handful of women in the United States Senate. Finally, they'd likely charge that the effort to seat Jenkins was masterminded by extremists, since the Republican Senate hopeful has been an ally of the religious right for years.

But if the Democrats adopt that strategy, they run a considerable risk. If the Republicans can document vote fraud, they can claim the moral high ground, forcing the Democrats either to accept Jenkins's election or call a new election, or to defend a corrupt election outcome.

Still, Senate Democrats can't allow Landrieu to be replaced with Jenkins, and they probably would do whatever they had to in order to block any GOP effort to overturn the results. That's why Jenkins still has an uphill battle to make it to the Senate. But the hill doesn't seem to be as big as it was a few months ago, and that, in itself, is remarkable.

Massachusetts Governor

When President Bill Clinton decided to appoint Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican, as ambassador to Mexico it turned the '98 Massachusetts governor's race on its head. But even that event wasn't the big news of the race. Instead, Massachusetts's political environment was shaken when negative reports about two Kennedys swept through the state like an uncontrolled fire.

First, Sheila Kennedy, the ex-wife of Cong. Joe Kennedy (D), who was preparing to run for governor, went public in a high-profile book about her ex-husband. Her comments weren't always complimentary. Then, Kennedy's brother, Michael, got the worst media attention imaginable when he was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year old babysitter.

A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV taken shortly after both Kennedy stories showed Joe Kennedy's poll numbers sinking. Suddenly, he was running just a few points ahead of Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (D) for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and he was running even or behind when paired against the two most likely GOP nominees, Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci, who would become governor when Weld is confirmed as ambassador, and state Treas. Joe Malone.

While Weld's popularity assured that he would be a strong candidate for re-election (if he was to run), any other Republican would have a tough time winning the governorship against a formidable Democrat. Cong. Kennedy's problems complicate his political calculations and confuse both the Democrats' situation and the general election outlook.

But the bottom line for Democrats is that they won't have to face Weld in 1998, and that has to be good news for them and unsettling to Massachusetts Republicans.

Quick Updates...

California Senate: Cong. Sonny Bono (R) is being encouraged to run for the Senate by one-time Senate nominee Bruce Herschensohn. The GOP field already includes San Diego mayor Susan Golding, state Treas. Matt Fong, and wealthy businessman Darrel Issa. Incumbent Barbara Boxer (D) starts out ahead but could be vulnerable.

Iowa Senate: Sen. Chuck Grassley's decision to seek re-election to the Senate rather than the governorship means that the Republican incumbent is a heavy favorite to win a fourth term.

New York Senate: Cong. Charles Schumer (D) has announced that he's running for the Senate. Public Advocate Mark Green is already in the race for the Democratic nomination. Poll numbers suggest that incumbent Al D'Amato (R) is very vulnerable.

Spotlight Archives:

Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
In Idaho, A Rare Opportunity For Dems (11/19/97)
Stay The Course (11/6/97)
Car-Tax Issue Lifts Gilmore In Virginia (10/23/97)
New Jersey Governor's Race Down To The Wire (10/9/97)
Idaho Scramble: Who's Running For What? (9/25/97)
Hawaii's 1st C.D. Looks Like A Powder Keg (9/10/97)
Molinari's Departures Leaves Opening For Dems (8/25/97)
Georgia Governor's Race A Free-For-All (8/12/97)
Rep. Jon Fox Faces A One-Two Punch (7/30/97)
Sen. Hollings Prepares For A Fifth Term (7/22/97)
The House: Looking Ahead To 1998 (7/15/97)
Sen. Bond Has Re-election Edge (7/7/97)
Bumpers' Decision Encourages GOP (7/3/97)
Kentucky Senatorial Race A Toss-Up (6/24/97)
Nevada's Senator Reid Looks Like An Early Favorite (6/17/97)
1998 Gubernatorial Ratings (6/17/97)
Indiana's Evan Bayh Could Reclaim His Father's Old Senate Seat (6/3/97)
Who Will Control The House After '98? (5/30/97)
New Mexico's 3rd District: Color It Republican Green (5/20/97)
Don't Look For Many Senate Retirements In '98 (5/13/97)
Louisiana Senate, 1996: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over (5/5/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Re-election Ratings (4/25/97)
Dem, GOP Tests In Connecticut, Arizona (4/9/97)
Don't Count Al D'Amato Out Yet (3/25/97)
Whitman A Favorite In New Jersey (2/25/97)
Sen. Boxer Could Be Vulnerable (2/11/97)
Impressive Bloodlines In Minnesota Governor's Race (1/28/97)
Looking Ahead To '98 Gubernatorial Races In California, Florida (1/23/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Ratings (1/23/97)
Family Feud: The Fight for RNC Chairman (1/10/97)

Spotlight 1996

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