Three-term Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D) is no stranger to tough races. In 1995, before being elected to the Senate, she finished third in her state's jungle primary for the governorship, shutting her out of the eventual run-off election. The next year, her attempt to leap into federal office nearly failed, when she defeated former Democrat-turned-Republican Woody Jenkins for the U.S. Senate seat by an exceedingly narrow 50.2 - 49.8% margin (under controversial circumstances), making it the most competitive of thirty-three Senate races held nation-wide that day.
For reelection in 2002, she narrowly escaped defeat by a 51.7 - 48.3% margin, even as Republicans, bolstered by intense focus on foreign policy in the wake of the September 11th attacks, racked up wins across the country. Only three Senate races were more competitive that cycle.
Barack Obama's election in 2008 brought with it a Democratic wave that saw their numbers swell in the Senate by eight, and by 21 in the House. Needless to say, it was Landrieu's best performance for her seat to date. She won by a reasonably decisive, though far from overwhelming 52.1 - 45.7%, making it the sixth most competitive Senate battle of the cycle.
Unfortunately for Senator Landrieu, it doesn't appear as if this cycle will be any different from the last three. And most of the polling to date has indicated it could be her toughest yet. Furthermore, the chart below, compiled from Huffington Post Pollster and RCP, indicates things may be trending Cassidy's way:
But what's more? Three of the five pollsters to dive into the field in Louisiana have found an interesting trend. At least in terms of racial/ethnic and partisan identification, PPP, Rasmussen, and Harper are finding an electorate more akin to the 2008 presidential election, when Landrieu won by her most impressive margin to date, than in 2010, when David Vitter (R) easily dispensed of his Democratic opponent by 20 points.
Unfortunately, there were no exit polls in Louisiana in 2012. But in 2008, as the historical candidacy of Barack Obama brought out a particularly racially diverse electorate nationwide, nearly 1/3 (29%) of Louisiana's electorate identified as African American, virtually identical to recent PPP (28%), Rasmussen (29%), and Harper Polling (29%) findings. White voters made up 65% of the 2008 electorate, again, nearly the same as found by PPP (66%), Rasmussen (66%), and Harper Polling (64%).
Assuming the available racial demographic crosstabs are accurate, and hold through November, then Landrieu can consider herself fortunate (though not necessarily safe, as the polling above suggests). After all, a racial coalition similar to the one she enjoyed in 2008 can't be a bad thing for her reelection prospects. But what if the 2014 midterm electorate resembles the last midterm election? Remember that one? The famous (or infamous) "tea party" wave election? African Americans made up less than a quarter of of the Louisiana electorate (24%) that year, while the share of the white vote surged six points from 2008, to 71%.
What would happen to the PPP, Rasmussen, and Harper Poll, if the results were reweighted to match a racial demographic portrait identical to the one that turned out in 2010? Naturally, Bill Cassidy benefits:
Considering only the three most recent Louisiana Senate surveys with readily available crosstabs, it would appear that Republican Bill Cassidy would have a moderate to comfortable lead against Mary Landrieu in the event the three pollsters had found racial identification on par with 2010 turnout. And the same phenomenon applies to partisan identification.
All three pollsters listed above are finding the likely partisan turnout in the November midterm to be nearly identical to the 2008 Presidential race (42% Democrat, 38% Republican, and 20% Independent). But 2010 turnout was 8 points more Republican than in 2008. Therefore, clearly, if Republicans are so fortunate as to see that sort of partisan turnout again, they'd be in very good shape against a 3-term incumbent (all other poll findings remaining the same):
Of course, this post is highly speculative, and is meant to be. So much can happen - candidates implode, voters tune in and out, pollsters make mistakes - that it's insane to insist that what's happening on the ground now will be even remotely similar to what they're finding 9 months from now. But assuming pollster findings have been largely accurate so far, you have an idea of where the race stands today under two different turnout scenarios. One that resembles 2008, and one that resembles 2010. Though the elections occurred so close in time to one another, their ultimate results, and the ultimate electorates they produced, could not be more different. Continue to watch as the electorate takes shape.
Side note - the Feb 6-9, 2014 PPP poll decided to go full-fantasy by testing popular and controversial Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson on the hypothetical 2014 Senate ballot against Mary Landrieu - and the reality TV star performed surprisingly well. Five points better, in fact, than likely GOP nominee Bill Cassidy. Below is a chart of how Phil Robertson would have done against Mary Landrieu, reweighting three different PPP demographic/political findings away from 2008-like turnout, and more towards 2010 turnout. Robertson, under one scenario, takes a near double-digit lead over Sen. Landrieu.