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National

Election Day Was Harsh For Senate's Southern Democrats

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We report now on the state of the Democratic coalition - a coalition that didn't deliver very much on Tuesday. In the South especially, Democrats failed to produce their white votes. In the House, the lone white Democrat from the Deep South, Georgia Congressman John Barrow, lost his seat to a Republican challenger. And in the Senate, only Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu is hanging on, locked in a runoff with Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The election was harsh for the Senate's Southern Democrats. Mark Pryor in Arkansas and North Carolina's Kay Hagan lost their seats. Democratic hopeful Michelle Nunn fell short in Georgia. And in Alabama, Democrats didn't even field a candidate against Republican Jeff Sessions. The party's last hope rests with Mary Landrieu, who tried to hit the reset button yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: The national race is over.

ELLIOTT: With control of the Senate decided, she wants Louisiana voters to look at what she's done for the state during her three terms in office.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MARY LANDRIEU: Regardless of what the national mood has been, we have delivered time and time again for this state.

ELLIOTT: Her message is aimed at voters like Kirk Stirton of New Orleans, who voted for Bill Cassidy on Tuesday.

KIRK STIRTON: I like Mary Landrieu. I've voted for her before, but I want the Republican control of the Senate.

ELLIOTT: Cassidy's campaign strategy was to link Landrieu to national Democrats and President Obama. After making the runoff, he shows no signs of letting up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BILL CASSIDY: If you want a senator that represents you, not Barack Obama, I look forward to getting your vote on December the 6.

ELLIOTT: This is not the first time Landrieu has been forced into a runoff. She survived rematches in 1996 and again in 2008, but political columnist Stephanie Grace of The Advocate newspaper says Landrieu has more to overcome this time.

STEPHANIE GRACE: When she won in 2008, she got about a third of the white vote in the state. The theory is you really need about 30 percent. She got 18 percent of the white vote Tuesday.

ELLIOTT: That's a lot of ground to make up in a month's time. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu acknowledges his sister has an uphill battle as a Southern Democrat.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: When Lee Atwater designed the Southern strategy, and they started taking out Democratic office holders. It has basically gone unabated, and Mary is the last person standing.

ELLIOTT: The Landrieu campaign strategy for the runoff is to force Bill Cassidy to defend his voting record - against disaster aid, for instance. Mitch Landrieu says Cassidy is going to have to explain himself.

MITCH LANDRIEU: Because he never had to do that because he could always hide behind Obama bad. Well, the people of Louisiana are not going to just elect somebody based on who they're against.

ELLIOTT: But columnist Stephanie Grace says in this hyper-partisan environment, that may be enough.

GRACE: We're used to personalities in this state, and I think we're moving away from that. This of course is the state of Huey Long and Edwin Edwards and all kinds of people who were colorful. So this is a new thing - someone really running as a Republican, and perhaps winning because he's a Republican - and maybe not much more than that.

ELLIOTT: That sentiment leaves moderate or Blue Dog Democrats out of the hunt. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.