Louisiana's Voters Turn Out In Support of States' Rights and Choice, while Whacking the Spin Doctors and Chastening Bush

   Since 1998, the major political events of each biennial seem to take place in December, like an aftershock from the November General Election earthquake.

   President Clinton was impeached in December 1998, after the Democrats made unusual mid-term gains in Congress.  The 2000 presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court in December.  And the voters in Louisiana put the final Senate and House races to bed in December 2002.

   The cardinal rule of psephology is to wait until all the votes are counted before deciding what happened in an election.  The Bush administration, which is mostly bluster, bullying and public relations, was able to claim a great Republican mandate in the 2002 mid-term elections by suppressing the exit polls.  Louisiana has set the record straight.

   In a Saturday, December 7, 2002 run-off election, voters turned out in greater numbers than in the November General Election to re-elect Democrat Mary Landrieu to the United States Senate and to give the Democrats an additional seat in the House of Representatives.

   In the November 5 General election 1,236,313 voters cast ballots in the Senate race.  In the run-off, 1,248,081 people voted, an increase of 11,768.  In the over two decades that the Institute of Election Analysis has been examining election results, there has never been a Special Election, and especially a non-Tuesday special election, where the turnout has been higher than a general election.

   Mary Landrieu received 644,004 votes to Susan Terrell's 604,079.  Also decided on Saturday was the run-off for the 5th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican John Cooksey who ran for the Senate but lost the run-off spot to Terrell in the November election.

    The 5th Congressional district run-off was between Rodney Alexander and Lee Fletcher.  Alexander is a state Representative and Lee Fletcher was the administrative assistant to the retiring Congressman John Cooksey.  This race was even closer than the Senate race, Democrat Alexander won by 892 votes, 86,567 to Fletcher's 85,655.  

    Cooksey received 64,801 of his 171,752 votes in the Senate race in his old 5th Congressional District.  It is instructive to compare the votes in the 5th District.  In November, Cooksey received 64,801; Landrieu got 81,276 and Terrell got 36,354.  In the December run-off Landrieu garnered 93,030 to Terrell's 98,964.

    Landrieu got 11,754 more votes in the 5th District compared to Terrell's increase of 62,610.  Landrieu was getting 1 more vote for every 5 Terrell received.  But whereas the Senate turnout in the state was 11,000 higher in December than it was in November, it fell by almost 20,000 votes in the 5th congressional district alone.  It is safe to say that more than 1/4 of Landrieu's 40,000 vote margin came from the 5th congressional district.  If the 20,000 voters who did not vote had cast ballots, 4,000 would have gone for Landrieu and 16,000 would have gone for Terrell, a net gain of 12,000.  Cooksey would probably have made a far stronger candidate against Landrieu than Terrell.

    Tactics aside, there were only two major issues in the Senate run-off: Support for President Bush,  and abortion.  And the Republicans pulled out all the stops to try and win. Here are some excerpts from the final pre-election article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

    "Behind the flashy television ads and the hyped-up campaign rallies, there is a far quieter but no less intense effort being waged by Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican challenger Susanne Haik Terrell for Saturday's U.S. Senate runoff: a ground war to energize their core supporters and get them to the polls.

    "Telephone banks have been humming for days, some with recorded calls from national political celebrities.  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have, with little fanfare, flooded the state to energize carefully targeted groups of likely Landrieu voters.  Terrell, who has hosted a parade of GOP stars, is counting on election day help from hundreds of our-of-state college students and Christian home-schooled students.

    "Republicans have unleashed their '72-hour task force' plan, a step-by-step approach to vote-getting that has been honed over the last two years.  They credit the strategy for the spectacular GOP rout in Georgia on Nov. 5, when an incumbent Democrat governor and senator were defeated.  The effort was run by Ralph Reed, the head of the Georgia Republican Party who helped turn the Christian Coalition into a grass-roots political force.  Reed has been in Louisiana this week for Terrell.

    "The 72-hour plan places a premium on likely supporters with specific themes and maintains regular contact until the person votes or the polls close.  The names of likely voters are gleaned from membership lists provided by groups such as Christian churches, anti-abortion organizations and Second Amendment activists.

    "Hunters are one group that the GOP has fixed its sights on, targeting them with direct mail that touts Terrell's commitment to the right to bear arms and automated phone messages, known as 'robo calls,' from Vice President Dick Cheney, an avid outdoorsman and former Wyoming congressman.

    "Republican-leaning senior citizens shouldn't be surprised if they receive a recorded phone message from Barbara Bush reminding them to vote.  World War II hero and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole taped a call aimed at veterans.  Rudy Giuliani, the popular former mayor of New York, Iran-contra figure Oliver North and Governor Foster also were recording phone messages to energize the GOP faithful.

    "In the runoff, targeted households will receive recorded phone calls from Democrats who are well-known locally, including Senator John Breaux, D-La. and Representative William Jefferson, D-New Orleans; and possibly from Clinton.

    "The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which has endorsed Landrieu, mailed fliers to its 20,000 members.  Volunteers at the union's 31 chapters throughout the state are calling members this week to encourage them to vote.  The Louisiana Association of Educators, with 17,000 members, also has volunteers contacting its membership.

    "Operatives from the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Republican National Committee have been in the state for weeks for Terrell.  On Saturday, she will rely on a wave of volunteer support from hundreds of college students from Texas and Arkansas as well as local Christian home-school students who will be given literature to drop in targeted communities, party officials said.

    "The state Democratic Party has mobilized several hundred volunteers, about 100 of them from out of state, and paid workers to knock on the door of every registered Democrat in the state, said party Chairman Ben Jeffers. 

    "One appeal targeted to black voters surfaced last weekend at the Bayou Classic, the annual football game between Southern University and Grambling State University at the Superdome.

    "As spectators entered, some were given paper fans featuring the image of slaves in a cotton field.  Printed on the fans were stories of racial disenfranchisement.  Given as examples were the 2000 presidential election in Florida and the Louisiana primary last month in which material was widely distributed in the city with the wrong voting date.  The fans were distributed by an organization known as the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

    "The get-out-the-vote efforts of both campaigns will reach their peak Saturday.

    "Typically, the Democrats will track turnout at the polls at noon, said Jim Nickel, a lobbyist and former chairman of the state Democratic Party.  If the turnout in a key stronghold is low, the party will aim its phone banks at that area during the afternoon.  Another check on turnout will occur about 4 p.m.

    "Republicans will go a step further.  They will have lists of expected voters and check off names as they show up at the polls, a practice they call "flushing."  In some cases, according to party officials, if expected voters don't show up, they will receive a knock on their door reminding them once and for all: it's time to vote."

    While Terrell ran on a platform of supporting President Bush, Landrieu promised to do what was good for Louisiana.  The Louisiana result is a plus for the power of the states vis-a-vis the federal government, and it shows that Bush's so-called popularity in the polls has no pulling power with the voters who cast secret ballots.

    Bush is a purely public relations president.  He lost the election in 2000 but managed to get the office through a combination of bullying, name calling, and manipulating the legal process.  Then, by suppressing exit polls, he claimed an overwhelming mandate in the wake of the November election, regardless of what the vote showed.

    Only he did not anticipate the runoff in Louisiana.  One month after his supposed victory and mandate, after campaigning and throwing everything the Republican arsenal had at Louisiana, with typical excess of money, lies about the candidate's record, impugning the patriotism of opponents, not only was Mary Landrieu re-elected, but the Republicans lost a seat in the house.

    Now, Bush's war plan is a shambles, and his administration, too.  Because the firing of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey was a purely political maneuver to affect the Louisiana run-off.  Polls obviously showed the economy to be a major concern with the voters, given that United Airlines was on the brink of bankruptcy and that the unemployment figures released just before the Louisiana runoff showed the figure rising to 6%.  Bush fired his economic team to push the unemployment story off the front pages and to try and give the impression to Louisiana voters that he was doing something about the economy.   The votes of the good people of Louisiana show that Bush has no mandate for the Iraq war, plain for all the world to see.  And seeing as the stock market seems to move inversely to Bush's fortunes, Monday December 9, 2002 ought to be a very good day for the Dow Jones Industrial Averages.

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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf