Election Day May Not Settle Louisiana Senate Race

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Threatened with ouster in a state trending more heavily Republican, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu wasn't certain to know her political fate Tuesday, as voters cast their ballots in Louisiana's tight Senate race.

         While the Democratic incumbent led the field of candidates, polls suggested the race was headed for a December runoff between Landrieu and her chief Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. Landrieu, however, said she could win outright on Election Day in the eight-candidate field, which also included GOP contender and tea party favorite Rob Maness.

         Polls close at 8:00 p.m.

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         If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a head-to-head matchup between the top two vote-getters is set for Dec. 6.

         Never one to win easily, Landrieu faces tough odds again in her bid for a fourth term. She's the last Democratic statewide elected official in a state where President Barack Obama is unpopular and Mitt Romney easily won in 2012.

         But the woman jokingly nicknamed "Landslide Landrieu" for her tight wins insists that this isn't her most difficult contest. She points to her first Senate victory 18 years ago, when then-state treasurer Landrieu won the open seat by fewer than 5,800 votes.

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         "This is not the hardest campaign we have run," she said at a rally. "This doesn't scare us at all."

         To hang onto her seat, Landrieu, 58, will need to have strong turnout from black voters and modest support from moderate white voters, including Democrats who often vote for GOP contenders in federal elections. She'll also need to overcome Republicans' argument that a vote to return Landrieu to Washington is the same as casting a ballot for Obama. The race will help decide which party controls the Senate.

         Cassidy, 57, a Baton Rouge doctor who worked in the charity hospital system, campaigned on the theme that the race is about Obama's policies and Landrieu's support of them. He tied the Democratic senator to the president, repeatedly citing Landrieu's vote for the federal health care law and saying she supports Obama "97 percent of the time."

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         "If you love Barack Obama's agenda, vote for Sen. Landrieu," Cassidy said at a debate.

         Maness, 52, a political newcomer and retired Air Force colonel, echoed a similar refrain. But he also blasted Cassidy as part of a Washington establishment that is more concerned with protecting party bosses than with following the constitution.

         Landrieu distanced herself from Obama, saying she's worked with — and disagreed with — three presidents, voting for what's best for Louisiana, not for her party. Obama stayed away from Louisiana during the campaign.

         "I keep my eyes on the people of Louisiana, fighting for them every day regardless of who is in power," she said.

         In various elected offices h er entire adult life, Landrieu touted her seniority in the Senate, her chairmanship of the energy committee and her record of bringing federal aid to Louisiana. She referenced her family's deep ties to Louisiana: her father, Moon, was mayor of New Orleans, and her brother Mitch currently holds the job.

         Republicans, however, described Landrieu as out of touch with her home state, pointing to her $2.5 million home in Washington. Landrieu said she lives with her parents in New Orleans when in Louisiana, and a state district judge threw out a residency challenge against the senator on a technicality.

         The race is Louisiana's most expensive for a Senate seat ever. At least $27 million was raised by the candidates and millions more were spent by outside groups who have blanketed TV and radio with attack ads in a barrage unlike anything Louisiana voters have seen in prior elections.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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