Freshman Sen. Mary Landrieu knows it’s no laughing matter that she faces a Senate battle over whether she will keep her seat or be ousted through a challenge by her Republican opponent in last year’s election.
But humor is her first defense: “I’ve been fought over before.”
After the joke, the Louisiana Democrat turned serious.
No, she says, it doesn’t feel like trying to remain a senator is as big a job for her as being a senator.
“I have one job,” she said, heading to the Senate floor one recent day to cast a vote. “My job is to be a United States senator, and I do that every day.” Her dispute with Republican Woody Jenkins, she said, “is a distraction, of course, and I hope that it will be over with very soon.”
Landrieu beat Jenkins in November by 5,788 votes out of 1.8 million cast. She was sworn in Jan. 7.
Jenkins has waged a nonstop campaign to unseat her. He’s filed thousands of pages of documents with the Senate Rules Committee.
He contends the election was tainted by illegal payments to voters, multiple voting, illegal transportation of voters to the polls and transgressions by the gambling industry and a political organization controlled by New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.
“We’ve found 7,454 illegal votes that were cast, with many more yet to be found,” Jenkins said.
Landrieu rebuts the allegations as false, or lacking sufficient documentation to prove or disprove, or reflecting bookkeeping errors.
The Senate can unseat a member over election irregularities with a simple majority vote, but it would take 60 votes to stop a likely filibuster by the lawmaker’s party colleagues. To expel a senator for wrongdoing takes a two-thirds vote, or 67 of the 100 members.
Jenkins’ campaign to unseat Landrieu has caused him to spend most of his weekdays in Washington. He has lobbied senators including Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rules Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va.
He has not pushed his case with prosecutors and has refused to provide names of witnesses, telling a state legislative panel this month they must be kept secret to protect them from harm, possibly death. He has said he would give the names to the Senate Rules Committee if it agreed to keep them confidential.
Landrieu said the controversy aggravates her in part because “it’s not really about me. It’s about the nature and reputation of the state being used for someone’s own personal and selfish political objectives.”
Not that Louisiana is squeaky clean.
“No election system is perfect,” Landrieu said. “Not in any state, not in any county. I would support any changes to improve the system. But it’s a far cry from saying a system should be improved to showing evidence there was this great fraud.”