Republicans capped a banner election year Saturday by ousting Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, completing a rout of once-invincible Democrats from the Deep South.
The commanding victory by three-term Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge was virtually preordained when the Democrats' national campaign arm abandoned the race after Landrieu failed to win outright reelection on Nov. 4, forcing Saturday's runoff.
The seat was the ninth picked up this year by Republicans, who also knocked off Senate incumbents in Arkansas and North Carolina, pushing the GOP's new majority to 54 of 100 seats starting in January.
Speaking at a boisterous victory rally in his district in the state capital, Cassidy alluded to the GOP's nationwide romp last month.
“On Nov. 4, the American people sent a message,” he said, lowering his voice and speaking distinctly. “They sent a message that they did not like the direction our country was going in. Now, you in this room, our state, is the exclamation mark to that message.”
Landrieu conceded in a speech to supporters at a hotel — the Roosevelt, she noted — just outside New Orleans' French Quarter.
“Tonight we have so much to be proud of,” said Landrieu, surrounded on stage by her large family. “A record of courage, honesty and integrity and delivering for the state when it mattered the most, in some of our darkest hours,” including Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. “So the joy has been in the fight. It's been a blessing. It's been a fight worth waging.”
The defeat of the three-term incumbent senator was a serious blow to one of the dynastic families of Louisiana politics; Landrieu's brother, Mitch, is a former lieutenant governor now serving as New Orleans mayor, a position held by their father, Moon, in the 1970s.
More broadly, the loss carried heavy symbolic weight.
Sen. Landrieu is one of a dying breed — a white Southern Democrat holding federal office — and she was fighting not just Cassidy, a lackluster opponent who largely ducked public appearances, but decades-long forces that have transformed the region from a Democratic stronghold to arguably the most zealously Republican redoubt in the nation.
The realignment started as a backlash to the 1960s civil rights movement, hastened under the genial conservatism of President Reagan and sped up even more with the election of President Obama, who is deeply disliked by many white Southern voters.
The results have been stark. Landrieu's defeat means that Democrats, starting in January, will not control a single governorship, U.S. Senate seat, or legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas. It also leaves Democrats with just three U.S senators among 22 representing the states of the old Confederacy: two from Virginia and one from Florida, the least typical of Southern states.
“The Deep South has become a no-fly zone for Democrats,” said Charlie Cook, a Louisiana native and publisher of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicappers' guide to congressional elections. “Outside of urban areas and minority [House] districts, Democrats can't win.”
Fighting for survival, Landrieu tried distancing herself from her national party — and especially Obama — focusing on local issues and, in particular, the benefits she has brought the state, most recently as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an important post for the state's crucial oil and gas industry.
She rested her hopes in the final days on a fresh controversy surrounding payments Cassidy, a physician, received from Louisiana State's medical school, citing a lack of proper accounting and suggesting criminal fraud. Cassidy said the payments were for part-time teaching and medical work he did while in Congress and insisted there was nothing wrong with the arrangement.
His campaign was straightforward: depicting Landrieu as a rubber stamp for Obama, a strategy used to great effect by Republicans across the country, helping the party knock off more than twice as many Senate Democrats this election season as they had in the previous 10 years combined.
Landrieu was not the only legacy candidate thwarted on Saturday.
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards failed in his bid to capture Cassidy's vacated central Louisiana seat, an improbable comeback attempt — at age 87 — for one of the state's most colorful and controversial politicians.
The former four-term Democratic governor served more than eight years in federal prison for fraud, racketeering and extortion in connection with the licensing of riverboat casinos. He left prison in 2011 and co-starred, briefly, in a cable reality show focused on his pen-pal-turned-third-wife, Trina Scott.
He lost in the heavily Republican district to Garret Graves, a former advisor to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In another House contest, Republican physician Ralph Abraham easily dispatched Democratic Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo in another strongly Republican district in the northeast part of the state. Abraham will replace Rep. Vance McAllister, a Republican who failed to make the runoff after a surveillance video captured him kissing a former aide.
Neither race affected the balance of power in the House, where Republicans will start the next Congress with a commanding majority.