The Magazine

The Battle of New Orleans

From the December 9, 2002 issue: The last election of 2002, Terrell vs. Landrieu, may also be the meanest.

Dec 9, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 13 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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That, of course, is fair to point out. And it certainly contrasts with Landrieu's attempt to portray her voting record as moderate Democrat, which it is not. (Her record has won her high marks from liberal groups like Americans for Democratic Action. That group said Landrieu voted with its agenda 95 percent of the time in 1999, 80 percent in 2000, and 85 percent in 2001; her scores for those same years from the American Conservative Union were 4, 16, and 28.) But is it appropriate to accuse your opponent of abandoning her faith?

"Maybe it's an inappropriate comment," says Terrell. "I don't know. But as a practicing Catholic, I just don't understand how she can reconcile being a Catholic with her support for federal funding of abortions on overseas military bases, or with distributing morning-after pills in school."

Those "Louisiana values" were precisely the issue emphasized at a fire-up-the-troops rally of Christian conservatives at the Crescent City Baptist Church in Metairie last Monday. The fifty or so people who attended the event, sponsored by the Republican National Committee's Team Leaders program, were greeted by compare-and-contrast fliers from the National Right to Life Committee and the Louisiana Right to Life Federation. The featured speaker, David Barton, founder of a group called the "Wallbuilders," guided the attendees through the American Founding, emphasizing the Christian roots of the Constitution. ("Wallbuilders" alludes not to the so-called wall of separation between church and state, but to the book of Nehemiah, in which the Israelites rallied to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.) Barton thundered against abortion on demand, gay marriage, activist judges, and cultural decay. Finally, he encouraged those in attendance to vote. Citing Proverbs 29:2, he suggested the contest was ultimately one between the "righteous" and the "wicked."

It was striking language--the kind of moral absolutism that drives evangelical conservatives to the polls and drives the left batty. When I asked Terrell whether she was comfortable with that formulation--the righteous and the wicked--she said she didn't know about the presentation and emphasized that her campaign had nothing to do with it. Still, she said she had no problem with drawing such stark distinctions.

"Well, you know, people have the right to characterize how they see it," she says. "There are major differences between Mary and I, big philosophical differences. I think people see things based on their own philosophies and their own view of life. I say what I believe, and even if people disagree with my philosophy, I think the voters know I'll work hard to promote Louisiana and Louisiana values."

THE RNC'S PUSH to get Christian conservatives to the polls is just one part of a broad push to cap the successful midterm elections with a win in Louisiana. A pickup there would give them a 52-48 majority in the new Senate and discourage any repeats of the 2001 Jim Jeffords defection. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has several staff members in Louisiana to support the Terrell campaign, which forced the runoff with only five full-time staff members, two of them political neophytes. The effort by national Republicans--which already includes visits by President Bush and Vice President Cheney--will intensify during the last week of the campaign.

On Monday, December 2, former President Bush will make an appearance in Monroe. On that same day, Elizabeth Dole will stump for Terrell in Shreveport. On Tuesday, the president will headline events in Shreveport and New Orleans (he won Louisiana by 8 percentage points in 2000). Terrell will kickoff a final, statewide bus tour on Wednesday, with a high-profile Republican senator, followed by appearances by presidential advisers Mary Matalin and Karen Hughes on Thursday. And the party is trying to finalize details for an appearance by Rudy Giuliani on Friday.

The contrast with Landrieu's campaign couldn't be greater. Louisiana Democrats are unlikely to see any national Democrats in the state before Election Day. Not Tom Daschle. Not Hillary Clinton. And not Al Gore. Former President Bill Clinton recorded some phone messages aimed at black voters, but the Landrieu campaign has not been warm to the idea of appearing with him. Despite the fact that Landrieu's "victory hopes," according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "hinge on being able to energize black voters," Landrieu has also shunned Jesse Jackson. On November 23, Jackson attended a birthday party/fundraiser for Cleo Fields, a powerful former New Orleans congressman who only recently (and reluctantly) endorsed Landrieu. When Jackson offered his support to Landrieu, her campaign took pains to distance itself from him. According to the same Times-Picayune report, "the Landrieu camp said it had nothing to do with Jackson's appearance in Baton Rouge or his endorsement."