The Senate may have been voting on homeland security last week, but Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was no doubt also thinking about election security. There she stood, in the well of the Senate, as the roll was called on the long-delayed vote on creation of a new Department of Homeland Security. When wavering Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins--both from Maine--said "aye" to the version favored by the White House, the deal was sealed. Sen. Landrieu would follow their lead and be only one of three Democrats to back the president's proposal.
"A wise decision," said Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Republican senatorial committee, which is targeting Sen. Landrieu for defeat in an unusual Dec. 7 election in Louisiana. Mrs. Landrieu's senior Louisiana Democratic colleague--Sen. John Breaux--concurred in her political judgment, even though Sen. Breaux voted against the president's homeland-security bill: "It would have created a new issue for a whole new set of ads" for Republicans to use against her.
Sen. Landrieu must face voters a second time because under Louisiana's system, the general election is a giant gumbo-style open primary, where all the candidates are tossed into a pot and they vie for 50 percent plus 1. Failing that, the top two vote-getters face one another in a runoff. Sen. Landrieu mustered only 47 percent and now faces a GOP unified behind Suzanne Haik Terrell.
And Republicans are defining the issues: tax cuts, homeland security, abortion, and the ability to work with the Republican majority. Mrs. Landrieu favors cutting some taxes, favors banning some abortions, and now favors the president's homeland-security plan. She ran a TV ad claiming she supported the president's agenda 74 percent of the time. In a debate, Sen. Landrieu flat ignored a question about whether she would bring in liberal Democratic leaders to raise money for her-to counter the fundraising firepower of national Republicans like Vice President Dick Cheney, who raised about $100,000 for Mrs. Terrell last week.
Her rush to the center is risky: Louisiana newspapers report that alarming numbers of Democrat base voters see her as the lesser of two evils. State Sen. Greg Tarver, an African-American Democrat, said he was "sick of" Mrs. Landrieu's courting centrists and presuming support from blacks. "They only see us at election time."
The implication is, Sen. Tarver and his allies may not be willing to "see" her on the ballot.