Twelve years ago, I was in the Bayou State watching election returns. When most people visit Louisiana, they go to the French Quarter. But I went instead to Sulphur.
It’s an oil and gas town 30 miles from the Texas border. Their motto of “Faith – Family – Community” is featured prominently in their parades.
So why did I spend a month of my life in a town in Southwest Louisiana? Well, it all began when Election Day 2002 should have ended. Voters in 49 states cast their judgment that Tuesday in November and the Republicans won back the Senate.
But things weren’t finished in the Bayou State. Instead, it went into overtime.
You see, the Republicans in the Louisiana Legislature were convinced that there would be higher black turnout in November (than in say December) for Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu. So they hatched a plan: Keep Mary Landrieu under 50% in the primary and move the primary to November — because black voters who support Mary Landrieu will be less likely to come out and vote on a Saturday in December.
So they thought.
They passed the law. And nine candidates ran for the Senate seat. And no one broke 50%, so the top two candidates faced off in a general election – but in December. So while every other Senate race in the country was over, the folks in Louisiana were treated to another month — with Mary Landrieu trying to fend off challenger Suzie Terrell.
My friends in Washington DC went to work immediately for Terrell. I came along as well, but I had my reporter cap on. So I didn’t participate in their direct electioneering activities. In truth, I spent time not just in Sulphur, but in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans, too. I went around the area and talked with voters and Catholic pro-life leaders.
I talked with Ed Jeanfreau, whose retirement didn’t stop him from distributing 12,000 pro-life signs all across Louisiana. And I spoke with Peggy Kenny, who was spending all day on the phone calling pro-life activists while she was preparing her family’s Thanksgiving diner. She’s been up since 4 a.m. And was desperately trying not to burn the turkey.
Jeanfreau, Kenny, and a legion of pro-life activists were busy trying to alert Catholic voters of the vast difference between what Mary Landrieu said in Louisiana and how she voted in Washington, D.C. After all, NARAL gave Landrieu an 80% pro-abortion score and Planned Parenthood gave her a 90%.
In order to win reelection, Mary Landrieu knew should have to win Catholic voters to her cause. She was willing to confuse voters. And yes, she was willing to downright lie.
Danny Loar, the executive director of the Louisiana Catholic Conference, was frustrated that Catholics were so misinformed. When both candidates were given a questionnaire from the Louisiana Catholic Conference, Loar was floored by what Landrieu wrote. He told me, “Landrieu answered all the questions as if she is pro-life.”
Even cynical young me couldn’t believe it. Usually when a politician is confronted with a difficult question, they’re trained to downplay the differences and change the subject to a topic that makes them look better. But here Mary Landrieu was saying she supported specific pro-life bills when she voted the other way.
Normally the diocesan newspapers would print the Questionnaire in order to keep Catholic voters informed. But with outright lies in the questionnaire, the Louisiana Catholic Conference did something unprecedented. They informed the dioceses of the contradictions included in the questionnaire and suggested that the newspapers consider not running it all. Several newspapers took the advice and refused to run Landrieu’s bogus answers.
When I discovered this scoop, I published the story at the National Catholic Register.
Political reporters, fatigued from the long election season, weren’t paying that much attention to the Louisiana Senate race, especially since control of the United States Senate wasn’t at stake. And precisely because control of the Senate wasn’t at stake, it was much tougher for pro-life Suzie Terrell to get media attention.
It turns out that Doug Johnson at National Right to Life was trying to wake reporters up with my scoop that Mary Landrieu was undeniably lying directly to Catholic voters in Louisiana. He was emailing my story all over the place. So I called my editor and told them that they might be getting some more traffic to their website. Yeah…. I had no idea…
Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report decided to link my story. And he can crush a small website with the amount of traffic he sends along.
And so the National Catholic Register web servers melted down as 320,000 viewers went to the site in a span of 24 hours. Conservative fans of Drudge found out that Landrieu was lying. But back in Louisiana? Landrieu used her campaign warchest to confuse and distract voters across the Bayou State.
There are two things in politics that vex me:
Mary Landrieu hit the mark on both counts.
And 2002 was a great chance to defeat her once and for all. But remember that Republican plan to hold the general election in December so that lower turnout would lead to Landrieu’s defeat? Black voter turnout was actually higher that December than it was in November. Not a huge surprise when you think about it. Mary Landrieu’s power base was New Orleans where her father was once Mayor, and her brother has the job now. But the black vote wasn’t enough for her to win. She needed Catholics, too.
And with her lies, she was able to get them. Landrieu was reelected in 2002 with 51.7% of the vote.
After the election, I just couldn’t be a reporter anymore. I was determined to commit myself to educating Catholic voters on the issues — and countering politicians like Landrieu who win by deceiving Catholic voters. I met Joe Cella in Louisiana that month. I later joined forces with him at the Ave Maria List, but that organization was scuttled in 2004. So Brian Burch, Cella and I formed a new group in 2005 which is today called CatholicVote.org.
As for Landrieu, Republicans tried again to unseat Landrieu in 2008. But it was a presidential year and Barack Obama was on the ballot. She didn’t even need a runoff race that time. She got over 50% on the first try. She cruised to a third term despite winning her first Senate race by a mere 5,288 votes.
But a funny thing happened since 2008. Mary Landrieu dropped all pretense to being pro-life. No longer would cast the occasional pro-life vote and make noise about it to fool Catholic voters back home. Maybe she thought she was invincible? Since 2008, Mary Landrieu voted pro-abortion 100% of the time.
Oh, and she voted for Obamacare. Remember Obama’s HHS mandate which forces businesses to pay for abortion pills? When pro-lifers tried to stop the HHS mandate and reaffirm our religious liberty, Mary Landrieu voted the wrong way.
But her voting record finally caught up with her. Voters, especially Catholic voters, woke up to Mary Landrieu’s lies. Catholic voters in Louisiana cast their ballot for Bill Cassidy instead, and he won the Senate contest held this past Saturday. Finally, Mary Landrieu’s tenure in the Senate has ended.
There are a lot of people who deserve credit for this Cassidy’s victory. I’m happy to have played a smart part.
Way to geaux, Louisiana!