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What else were Louisiana voters trying to tell us? Insight on Obamacare, same-sex marriage, more

The voters have spoken, for now, anyway, so we know how they feel about Mary Landrieu, Bill Cassidy, and Rob Maness. But what else can the people who showed up at the polls tell us?

Well, plenty, if you’re willing to take a deep dive into the exit polls conducted by national news organizations. According to CNN’s survey, the Louisianans who gave Republican Senate candidates 58 percent of the vote actually agree with Landrieu, not Cassidy and Maness, on at least one of her major policy planks: Sixty-six percent favor raising the federal minimum wage.

On another major issue, the voters are solidly in the Republicans’ corner. Fixty-six percent said the 2010 Affordable Care Act went too far.

Tuesday’s voters continue to buck the national trend on same-sex marriage, which looks like it will become the law of the land sooner rather than later despite U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman’s outlier ruling upholding the state’s ban. Just 24 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal in Louisiana.

And only 35 percent said they favor legalized marijuana.

Not surprisingly, the economy was a top-tier concern among primary voters. More than four out of five said they’re worried about economic conditions, and just 31 percent pegged national conditions as either good or excellent.

So’s terrorism. Seventy-seven are worried about a major attack in the U.S. Just over half approve of U.S. military action against ISIS.

Thirty-seven percent said they support the aims of the Tea Party movement.

Voters gave GOP congressional leadership relatively high marks, considering. Forty-eight percent said they’re either satisfied or downright enthusiastic. Only 35 percent said the same of President Barack Obama.

And if you think that’s bad, consider how Gov. Bobby Jindal’s generally conservative-leaning constituents feel about him. What percentage of Tuesday’s voters think he’d make a good president? A mere 27 percent.

Who’s in charge here?

Better question: Who should be?

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has made her brand-new Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairmanship a centerpiece of her reelection campaign. It took 18 years for a Louisianan to attain that lofty position, she often reminds voters. Her ads echo the theme; one new commercial features several local industry types arguing that, ideology aside, Louisiana can’t afford to lose her.

Listen to Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, though, and the argument cuts the other way. At a Sunday campaign appearance in support of his bid to unseat Landrieu, the candidate made a pitch for a GOP takeover of the Senate — which, he noted, a Cassidy victory would help achieve.

If that happens, Cassidy continued, the state’s other senator, David Vitter, would likely be in line to chair another locally important committee. After all, who would the gathered GOP voters want in charge of Environment and Public Works, Vitter or the current chair, California’s Barbara Boxer? Also in line for a promotion, he said, would be the day’s special guest John McCain, who’d presumably become chairman of Armed Services.

A surrogate for Landrieu, though, has offered yet another take on the jockeying for power in DC. If Landrieu loses, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said during a recent campaign swing on her behalf, the top Democratic spot on energy would likely go to Washington’s Maria Cantwell, who’s considerably less industry-friendly.

Then there’s the fact that, if Vitter has his way, his own reign would be awfully short. Just one year after he’d take over his new committee, the senator is hoping to leave the nation’s capital behind and be sworn in as governor.

Landrieu v. Landrieu?

No, not Mitch v. Mary. They’re very much on the same page, politically speaking.

In fact, the New Orleans mayor and his U.S. senator sister went to the Pontchartrain Park community center Monday morning to send a joint message: They both strongly support U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond for reelection — even though the other Democrat on the ballot shares their own famous name.

Among Richmond’s three challengers is a guy named Gary Landrieu, Mitch and Mary’s cousin and a perennial candidate who generally runs without backing from the prominent branch of the family tree.

He does, though, seem to benefit from the association. When Gary Landrieu ran against Richmond and several others in 2012, he won 19 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish and 25 percent of the overall vote.

Monday, Mitch Landrieu made it clear he wants to keep Richmond as the city’s voice in Washington. Mary Landrieu, meanwhile, spoke of having a willing and capable partner in the other chamber, on issues such as flood insurance and education.

Despite the potential for confusion, Richmond shouldn’t have much to worry about come November. So when it was his turn to speak to the largely elderly, heavily Democratic crowd gathered in a room decorated with pictures of President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr., Richmond focused on the incumbent who’s facing a far more serious challenge than he is.

“We need to make sure that Mary Landrieu goes back to Washington,” Richmond said. Noting Landrieu’s reputation as a “bulldog,” he quipped that he has it easy “because all I have to tell anybody in DC when I don’t get my way is, ‘I’m going to call Sen. Landrieu and have her call you.’ And no one up there wants to catch the wrath of our senior senator.”

Flashback Friday: One more reason to love Senate debates

It’s because they create the possibility of exchanges like this one, between 1996 runoff opponents Mary Landrieu and Woody Jenkins. WWL-TV’s Dennis Woltering, who moderated the debate, got the ball rolling by asking both candidates to name something they admired about the other.

Jenkins, speaking in his best radio-announcer voice, went first.

“I think one thing about Ms. Landrieu is she’s attractive, and before this campaign she was fairly nice, actually,” Jenkins said.

“Anything beyond cosmetics?” Woltering asked.

“Well, I love New Orleans,” Jenkins responded. “She’s from New Orleans and that’s good.”

Next came Landrieu, who complimented her opponent for being a “very smooth talker.”

“I’ve always admired his ability to communicate his ideas, although I don’t agree with most of them,” she said.

Anything else, Woltering asked?

“That’s about it.”

Anyway, just thought I’d share in light of my column today on this year’s debates. Made me laugh then. Makes me laugh now.

The 2015 election, geographically speaking

The 2015 statewide races are starting early, so early that candidates haven’t even formally qualified for the 2014 election yet.

So far, most of the focus has been on how the assorted candidates for various offices stack up ideologically. But there’s another interesting metric: geography. Depending on how things shake out, one Louisiana locality could wind up with an awful lot of stroke in Baton Rouge come Inauguration Day 2016.

That could be the capital city itself, if Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne wins the top job and Mayor-President Kip Holden is elected to fill Dardenne’s shoes.

Or it could be Jefferson Parish, if U.S. Sen. David Vitter becomes governor and Parish President John Young wins the contest for lieutenant governor.

While recent history suggests that governors and lieutenant governors don’t always see eye to eye — Dardenne and Gov. Bobby Jindal aren’t exactly a happy team, for instance — things could be different under either 2015 scenario.

Dardenne and Holden represented Baton Rouge in the Legislature together, and while one’s a Republican and the other a Democrat, they seemed to get on just fine. In announcing his candidacy, Holden did take a shot at Dardenne for wading into the “Duck Dynasty” controversy, but that came off more as political posturing than personal attack.

Vitter and Young seem to have a rapport as well, which is noteworthy since both are self-styled reformers with histories of clashing with the parish’s political establishment. In fact, despite the obvious benefit of having locals in high statewide office, at least some area politicians could well break ranks.

One big name already has. Sheriff Newell Normand has endorsed Dardenne for governor.

Vitter’s battles with fellow Jefferson Parish pols date back to his days as a legislator two decades ago, when he’d routinely call out his peers for what he deemed substandard ethics. In fact, tension between the always confrontational Vitter and Normand’s late mentor and former boss, the equally combative Harry Lee, was so thick that the two wound up in court. (During a recent C-SPAN interview, when Vitter was bashing the Senate’s majority leader, he briefly slipped and referred to “Harry Lee” instead of Harry Reid).

“His style has always been way too divisive and I don’t see that changing any time soon,” Normand said of Vitter, according to

Today in trashtweeting

As I wrote in this morning’s column, candidates in Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race are playing things pretty safe on social media — unlike, say, some of the hopefuls in the 6th District congressional race.

But mistakes still get made, and in the Twitterverse, a single errant keystroke by a candidate can create an opening for his or her opponent. Take Republican Bill Cassidy’s tweet about tonight’s game, which clearly intended as an innocuous crowdpleaser.

“Finally, Saints football is back…even if it is preseason,” he wrote. So far so good. The problem was in the hashtag, which basically acts as a searchable key word for similar tweets. Cassidy (or whoever is tweeting from his account) tried to go with a game-day standby, but wound up typing “#whoday.”

Rob Maness, the other Republican aiming to unseat Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, wasn’t about to let that one pass.

“Love the sentiment, Congressman,” Maness tweeted, “but I think you meant #WhoDat!” For good measure — or maybe to rub it in just a bit more — he added his own hashtag: #BeatTheRams.

David Vitter’s “oops” moment over Common Core

Everyone knows that Gov. Bobby Jindal was for Common Core before he was against it.

But was U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who’s running to replace Jindal, against the controversial education standards before he was for them?

It certainly seems so, given the not-at-all subtle language that appeared over Vitter’s signature in a recent fundraising plea, which was reproduced over the weekend on LSU communications professor Bob Mann’s blog.

“I am prepared to lead on these issues as Governor — to get our economy moving, hold the line on taxes, and protect our citizens from ObamaCare, the president’s insane environmental regulations, heavy-handed big government policies like ‘Common Core,’ and all the rest,” Vitter wrote to prospective contributors.

Unless he didn’t.

Asked to elaborate on his boss’s evolution from critic to strong supporter, as he pronounced himself last week, Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar said it was all a misunderstanding. Bolar said the Common Core line was actually a “drafting mistake by the direct mail fundraising firm that should have been caught.”

“The situation,” he added, “has been fully corrected.”

An alternative to the official story, of course, is that Vitter put his finger to the wind and flip-flopped too.

While Jindal belatedly realized that he didn’t want to alienate the grassroots activists around the country who are agitating against Common Core, Vitter may well have figured out that he needs to back it in order to appeal to the big money donors who contribute to Super PACs — rather than the foot soldiers who respond to emotionally loaded direct mail pieces.

No matter how long he’s held it, Vitter’s office says this is his current position: “I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Governor Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the new school year is very disruptive. As Governor, I would take an aggressive, hands-on approach to get curriculum and implementation right. I’d ensure the state and locals maintain complete control over curriculum, lesson plans and reading lists and make good decisions on those. And I’d demand effective planning and preparation with parents, school boards and teachers.”

Vitter, it’s worth noting, isn’t the only gubernatorial hopeful who says he accidentally misrepresented his own position. In a letter to the editor last week, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne blasted the tactics Jindal’s using to block implementation of Common Core, and in the process managed to echo the governor’s criticism of the program itself.

“I agree with Gov. Jindal that Louisiana should establish its own standards and tests in Louisiana,” Dardenne wrote.

Interviewed afterward, Dardenne insisted that he actually disagrees with Common Core critics. All he meant to convey, he said, is that Common Core was adopted through Louisiana’s proper legal framework.

So there you have it, the official positions of Louisiana’s big three Republicans on one of the most contentious issues of the day.

But just remember this: If you don’t like where any of them stand, stick around a while. If recent history tells us one thing, it’s that they may well shift again.

Steve Scalise’s short honeymoon

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise hasn’t even formally assumed his new job of House Majority Whip, but his honeymoon may already be over — at least as far as the national media’s concerned. And I’m not talking about the so-called liberal media.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace hit the Jefferson lawmaker with some tough follow-up Sunday after Scalise refused to be pinned down on the GOP leadership’s plans.

“I’m asking you a question sir: Will you delay your recess?” Wallace said at one point.

“We’re not even on recess, Chris. We’re here right now,” Scalise answered.

Scalise also deflected questions over whether the GOP hierarchy he’ll soon join will consider impeachment efforts against President Barack Obama. After Wallace asked the second time, he responded that, “well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment and they’re trying to fundraise off that, too.”

“I’m asking you, sir,” Wallace shot back.

Afterward, one former Republican congressman pronounced himself unimpressed.

“What is wrong with him?” “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough asked MSNBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd. “[Scalise] is the number three guy! He is not a back bencher! Not a crazy nut like I was. He is a number three ranking Republican in the House of Representatives! And you can’t say no to that? It’s devastating.”

Todd’s answer actually echoed Scalise’s.

“(The Democrats) want this. They see nothing but political upside to this and think a lawsuit frankly is good politics,” Todd said.

“Then why did he play into their hands, if he knew that’s they wanted?” Scarborough asked. “The answer is no!”

But if Scalise didn’t get much love on the airwaves, he did a lot better during the run-up to his new job with the people who grease the political skids.

The National Journal reported that Scalise collected nearly $150,000 in the days following his election as whip, including from donors who’d never given him a dime before. The new contributors include top lobbyists and representatives from the defense, financial and medical industries.

Scalise, who is popular at home and represents among the safest Republican seats in the nation, certainly doesn’t need the money to hold on to his job. But when it comes to powerful interests cozying up to powerful lawmakers, that’s generally beside the point.

Update: It got worse. Scalise assumed the whip post Thursday just in time for a Ted Cruz-inspired faction of his own party to torpedo an immigration funding bill to address the ongoing border crisis. The lead from Politico’s account of his first day: “The Steve Scalise era is off to an embarrassing start.”

So what’s Lenar Whitney so steamed about?

The 6th District Congressional race is just getting started, but state Rep. Lenar Whitney is already making it clear that she’s not just running against her ten or so opponents. She’s also running against what she’s called the “lamestream media” — a pet phrase of Sarah Palin, Whitney’s apparent role model.

Whitney took to Twitter Friday to lash out at a reporter who handicaps Congressional races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, alleging that he not only misrepresented what happened during her interview but that he’s out to get her.

“What @CookPolitical printed about me is an outright lie. I left interview w/ @Redistrict several ?s later, after he asked if I was a birther,” she wrote. “It was obvious from onset of the interview that @Redistrict had planned to jump me bc he is a liberal shill who despises conservative women.”

“@Redistrict” is actually a veteran journalist named David Wasserman, and this is what he wrote about Whitney in his 6th District roundup (the Cook Political Report is only available to paying subscribers).

While Dan Claitor, Paul Dietzel and Garret Graves round out the top GOP tier at this point, “the newest wild card in the race is state Rep. Lenar Whitney, a dance studio owner from Houma who hopes to rally the southern reaches of LA-06 (about 13 percent of the vote) and takes kindly to the moniker ‘Palin of the South.’ ”

“In late June, Whitney posted a YouTube video entitled ‘GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX’ in which she claims ‘any 10 year old’ can disprove the theory with a household thermometer. Shortly after being asked to explain how she arrived at her views in a recent interview with the Cook Political Report, she fled the room.

One neutral Louisiana observer admits that while Whitney is just as much of a loose cannon and potential embarrassment to the state as (Democratic former Gov. Edwin) Edwards, her over-the-top brand of provocation could sell with some elements of the party. Furthermore, her presence in the southern tentacle of the 6th CD could sap some votes from Graves, best known for his coastal restoration efforts. Still, at this juncture, Graves looks best-positioned,” Wasserman wrote.

Friday, Wasserman said Whitney’s the one who’s twisting things, particularly his attitude toward Republican women.

“I’ve interviewed many, many very conservative women and I’ve been impressed by many of them,” he said. “It’s fair to say she wasn’t one of the candidates who’s impressed us.”

Wasserman said he asked Whitney the same sorts of questions he asks male candidates, and that “it’s part of our standard procedure and our responsibility to gauge how candidates stand up to tough questioning. We believe that’s a pretty good indicator of how a candidate will perform in the race.” Although Whitney stuck to her claims about global warming, he said she “was unable to offer any evidence” despite repeated questions.

He said Whitney and her team did indeed leave after he asked whether she thought President Barack Obama was born in the United States, not immediately following the global warming exchange. Wasserman said he decided to ask “given her unusual positions on some other issues.”

“She replied that it was a matter of some controversy,” he said. Her aides objected and described the meeting as a “Palin-style interview,” he said, and Whitney ended the session.

Update: The long-distance war of words continued Wednesday, when Wasserman took to the Washington Post’s new PostEverything opinion blog to tell the world just what he thought of Whitney and their aborted interview. And he didn’t beat around the bush.

“Never have I met any candidate quite as frightening or fact-averse as Louisiana state Rep. Lenar Whitney, 55, who visited my office last Wednesday. It’s tough to decide which party’s worst nightmare she would be,” Wasserman wrote. “She clearly relishes poking Democrats in the eye, cites Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) as a political role model, and takes kindly to the nickname ‘Palin of the South.’ ”

“Whitney’s brand of rhetoric obviously resonates with some very conservative Louisiana voters who view President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency as big-city elitists directly attacking the state’s energy industry and their own way of life. And she would hardly be the first ‘climate denier’ elected to Congress,” he wrote. “But it’s not unreasonable to expect candidates to explain how they arrived at their positions, and when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.”

He also wrote that “it was the first time in hundreds of Cook Political Report meetings that a candidate has fled the room.”

Whitney spokesman Chris Comeaux pointed to the online column as evidence of Whitney’s initial claims on Twitter, including that Wasserman has it in for her because she’s a conservative woman.

“It was obviously a jump,” Comeaux said of the interview. “He even brought interns to watch. He asked her a bunch of times about the video. He kept being snarky. As we’re leaving the room, he throws out the Kenya question.”

Comeaux said he doesn’t remember her saying anything in response — “he’s talking to people who are literally leaving the room” — but says her stance is that “of course Obama was born in America.”

Comeaux also criticized the Post for initially illustrating the item with an unflattering photo of Bachmann, the much-mocked congresswoman and former presidential candidate. The picture was later replaced with a link to Whitney’s video claiming global warming is a hoax.

“This is the real war on women,” he insisted.

Which will apparently be the last word in this strange back-and-forth.

Reached by email, Wasserman wrote that “we here at the Cook Report are moving on and have nothing more to say about the matter.”

About that proclamation….Mayor Landrieu would like to take it back

Maybe the city should come up with a neutral phrase. Better yet, perhaps it needs a more stringent application process for groups seeking “certificates of recognition” from Mayor Mitch Landrieu commending their “outstanding service to the City of New Orleans.”

Because some of the folks who’ve had some pretty shocking run-ins with visiting members of Operation Save America have a few thoughts on the mayor’s warm welcome for the hardball anti-abortion group.

Landrieu awarded the standard-issue proclamation to OSA director Rev. Flip Benham, according to a story on the Uptown Messenger web site. Tuesday afternoon, Landrieu’s office said the certificate was “issued in error.”

Two days earlier, its members had disrupted a moment of silence in honor of a recently deceased congregant at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Claiborne and Jefferson.

Rev. Deanna Vandiver told Uptown Messenger that the protesters started shouting about “abominations” and challenged the idea that the church represents a true faith. On its web site, the group called the generally progressive church a “synagogue of Satan.”

“Literally in our most tender and vulnerable space, religious terrorism began,” Vandiver said. She said she found the mayor’s proclamation “deeply troubling.”

Operation Save America, an affiliate of the more notorious Operation Rescue, is also protesting against the not-yet-opened Planned Parenthood facility near the church, and has brought bullhorns and signs with graphic photos to providers’ neighborhoods.

“My kids are scared,” a neighbor of one targeted doctor told the news organization. “It’s all these ugly pictures. They’re talking on the loudspeaker. I try to speak to them civilly, and it’s very difficult to do, because they’re looking for a confrontation.”

As of Tuesday, an online petition asking Landrieu to rescind the proclamation had drawn over 750 signatures.

“OR/OSA are fringe organizations, comprised of those who feel it appropriate to engage in aggressive, threatening, and violent behavior, in the name of denying women their constitutionally-protected right to reproductive health care,” the petition says. “Flip Benham has been arrested over 50 times, and has targeted a variety of abortion-providers, including Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered in 2009 in his church by a OR/OSA adherent, Scott Roeder. He has targeted doctors and their families at their private homes, business, and schools. He has also been convicted of stalking a Charlotte physician, with intent to cause emotional distress.”

Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said the request for the proclamation came in through the city’s web site, According to the site, proclamations are meant for organizational honors, church anniversaries and pastoral anniversaries, retirements, heroic deeds, 100th birthday celebrations and outstanding community service by an individual, group or organization. He described the process as routine.

Still, Gamble said the staffer who looked through the requests should have flagged the group’s application based on its history.

“To be clear,” Gamble said, “the city does not endorse extreme or violent tactics, and this proclamation was issued in error. Any group can exercise their constitutional rights, but all of us have a responsibility to do so in a respectful manner. During these events, the NOPD is executing a robust security plan to keep the peace.”