If the Chamber of Commerce backs Mary Landrieu, she’ll join a shrinking club


Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)(Photo by Rex C. Curry/For The Washington Post)

If the Chamber of Commerce backs Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) for reelection, she will join an shrinking club: Democrats backed by the nation's largest business group.

In an op-ed about the Chamber's political strategy published in Saturday's New York Times, Joe Nocera writes that the group has decided to back Landrieu. But a spokeswoman cautioned that no decisions have been finalized yet.

According to a Chamber tally, the group has endorsed fewer and fewer Democrats in recent years. In 2008, it backed 38 for Congress. That number shrunk to 21 in 2010, five in 2012 and and just two so far this year -- Reps. Henry Cueller (D-Tex.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.).

Part of the explanation appears to be the decreasing number of moderate Democrats who fit the mold of a Chamber candidate. Another is the apparent sharpened focus on helping Republicans win that Nocera writes about.

"At the most recent Committee of 100 meeting, Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s national political director, told the group that the chamber planned to support Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who is running for re-election to the Senate," Nocera says in his op-ed.

The Chamber backed Landrieu in 2008. But this year, she is running in a pivotal race in the battle for the Senate against Rep. Bill Cassidy, a capable Republican recruit.

In an e-mail, Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes wrote, "No decisions have been made in the LA Senate race."

Landrieu is a centrist Democrat who has cast key votes in line with the desires of the business community. She supports construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. The Chamber has awarded Landrieu its Spirit of Enterprise award, which its presents to members of Congress with a friendly voting record.

Even if the Chamber backs Landrieu, there is a question of what, if any money it would spend on her behalf. Republicans need to gain six seats to win back the majority and Louisiana is viewed as one of the GOP's best pickup opportunities. Most Chamber donors would probably prefer a Republican Senate.

After a lousy 2012 cycle in which the Chamber went 2-for-15 in Senate races and 4-for-22 in the House, the group is trying to right the ship. So far, it has enjoyed some success defending favored incumbents in primaries where national tea party groups backed the challenger.  Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) are two examples.

But the group suffered a painful loss in the Georgia, where Rep. Jack Kingston lost to businessman David Perdue in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. The Chamber spent more than $2.3 million for Kingston.

In Michigan next week, the group faces a new kind of test. It is backing a pair of moderate GOP challengers against more conservative Reps. Justin Amash (R) and Kerry Bentivolio (R). It's the first time this election cycle the group has actively sought to dislodge sitting members in primaries.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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