Remember when the Louisiana runoff between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) was going to be the most unforgettable and pivotal contest in modern memory? That with the fate of Senate control hanging in the balance tens of millions of dollars and hundreds upon hundreds of staffers would pour into the Bayou State in advance of the Dec. 6 runoff?
Yeah, not so much. The Nov. 4 election ended all that -- with Republicans netting eight Senate seats and, with it, the majority in the 114th Congress. In the intervening 27 days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single Democrat in Washington not named "Landrieu" even talking about the race and even fewer (if that's possible) who think she has any chance at winning.
"I don’t know anyone outside of her staff who thinks she has a chance to win next Saturday," said Bob Mann, a longtime aide to former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D) and now the chair of the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU. "The hole is just too deep, the abandonment by white voters so complete. She cannot motivate enough black voters to make up for what she’s losing among whites." (To Mann's point, check out this post by Philip Bump explaining why the math just isn't there for Landrieu.)
Conversations with plugged-in Democratic strategists paint Landrieu as a victim of a failed strategy -- on her part and on the part of national Democratic officials.
Landrieu, according to these operatives, believed she would win the 50 percent plus one she needed to secure another term on Nov. 4 -- and acted accordingly. "She thought she was going to win in November and spent that way," said one Democratic consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly. The FEC reports bear out that failed strategy. As of Nov. 16, Landrieu had spent $16.4 million and had just $782,000 left in the bank. Cassidy, in his most recent report with the FEC, which covers expenditures through Oct. 15, had spent $7.9 million and had more than $3 million in the bank. Even if you go back to Landrieu's Oct. 15 report -- comparing apples to apples -- you see that Landrieu had spent almost $15 million at that time and had $1.6 million left on hand.
The problem for Landrieu is that not only did she not win outright on Nov. 4, she didn't even come close. She took 42.1 percent to Cassidy's 41 percent, a difference of roughly 16,000 votes out of more than 1.6 million cast for the two candidates. Even more troubling for Landrieu was the fact that Rob Maness, who ran as a tea party Republican, got almost 14 percent (more than 200,000 votes) -- the vast majority of which seemed likely to head Cassidy's way in a one on one runoff.
That wasn't the only bad thing for Landrieu that happened on Nov. 4. She had been banking on the idea that if, for whatever reason, her spending push didn't get her over the line on Nov. 4, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the other like-minded, Democratic-aligned groups would fill that funding void heading into the runoff. Except that national Democrats and their affiliated groups and super PACs went all out to keep the Senate on Nov. 4 -- and failed.
"The DSCC said 'we are going to hold our money until the runoff'," said one informed Democratic operative. "But they have no money. They didn't save any and didn't have any."
A look at spending on television since the Nov. 4 jungle primary shows just how little air cover Landrieu has received.
Aside from the $1.4 million her campaign has spent on ads, there has been less than $200,000 spent on the airwaves by groups supportive of her; the Humane Society Legislative Fund has dropped $123,000 while the Democratic State Central Committee had doled out $53,000.
Compare that to Republican spending since Nov. 4. Cassidy has spent $2.1 million on ads. Freedom Partners, part of the Koch Brothers' political network, has put in $1.6 million and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has chipped in another $1.5 million. American Crossroads is spending $932,000, Ending Spending is in for $733,000 and the National Rifle Association for $605,000
Add it all up and you get more than $7.7 million being spent by Cassidy and GOP groups compared to $1.6 million by Landrieu and Democratic groups. Not so good.
What her underwhelming performance on Nov. 4 and her failed spending strategy have created is a race in which Landrieu is forced to make a series of risky strategic gambits -- trying unsuccessfully to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved, attacking Cassidy as not-all-there etc. -- that haven't worked.
The best news for Landrieu at this point is that in five days, it'll all be over.