Mary Landrieu’s Keystone “Hail Mary” Is Destined to Fall Short

Senate Democrats refused to take a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline when it “only” meant high-paying American jobs, a secure energy source, and a negligible impact on carbon emissions. But now that it may help Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu’s reelection chances they are suddenly rethinking that decision.

At this point Election Day seems like a lifetime ago. But the transition from election politicking to policy strategizing was necessarily going to be quick, the product of having much to do and little time to do it in.
Nevertheless, the makeup of the Senate is not yet decided. In Louisiana, which has a “jungle” primary with a 50 percent threshold for victory, Democrat Mary Landrieu got 42 percent of the vote, Republican Bill Cassidy got 41 percent of the vote, and another Republican, Rob Maness, took 14 percent. Landrieu and Cassidy will now square off in a head-to-head runoff in just over three weeks from now.

As of this moment, things don’t look good for Landrieu. A new internal poll shows that Cassidy has a 56 percent to 40 percent lead over the Democratic incumbent – a massive gap that Landrieu has little time and few resources to close.

That doesn’t mean that Democrats don’t have some tricks up their sleeve. Rather than buy expensive television time, or engage a ground game to reach out to voters, her Senate colleagues are working to give her some free press on an issue important to her state. Kathleen Hunter and Jim Snyder report for Bloomberg:

Senate Democrats are looking at taking a vote in the lame-duck session starting today to force approval of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline, in an effort to bolster Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu’s re-election chances, a party aide said.

The purpose of the vote would be symbolic: To highlight Landrieu’s support for the pipeline and her influence on energy issues in Washington — a centerpiece of her campaign. A vote in favor of the pipeline may benefit Landrieu in her Dec. 6 runoff election, in which she faces Republican Representative Bill Cassidy.

Landrieu’s angle is clear: Large majorities of voters favor the Keystone XL pipeline project, and that is especially true in Louisiana, which has a large energy-producing sector. Perhaps more importantly, President Obama has been a loud opponent of the project, which adds to the allure given his dismal approval ratings in Louisiana. The more Landrieu can show she’s an independent voice capable of “beating” the president, the better her chances of reelection.

Of course, all of this is pure politics and it always has been for Landrieu. From 2006 to 2012 her PAC contributed nearly $400,000 to reelect some of the Senate’s most fervent opponents to domestic energy production. In 2011, Landrieu was not a sponsor of a bipartisan bill to require the Secretary of State to act on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. In 2012 Landrieu also refused to cosponsor bill to approve the project without presidential approval. Only in 2013, with her election chances slipping, did she sign onto a new bill as an original co-sponsor.

She then focused her reelection message on how “indispensable” she was to her home state because as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee she would “secure for Louisiana a significant and reliable string of revenue.”

Despite all that power she couldn’t stop President Obama’s new EPA standards because they “are out of her jurisdiction” and she couldn’t get a vote on the Keystone because she was blocked by party boss Harry Reid.

Amazingly, with the election now over and no incumbents to shield from tough votes other than Sen. Landrieu, Reid’s mind is now changing. The bill is good policy so hopefully it passes, it’s just sad that partisan politics had to be the thing to get it over the finish line.