By Jonathan Kaminsky
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy handily won a Louisiana U.S. Senate runoff election on Saturday, capping big wins for his party in the Nov. 4 midterms at the expense of one of the chamber’s last remaining southern Democrats.
Cassidy, whose victory swells the ranks of Republicans in the Senate to 54, defeated Mary Landrieu, a three-term incumbent who last month pushed hard for a Senate vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast that came up just short.
Cassidy, 57, ran a disciplined campaign focused on linking Landrieu to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular among whites in Louisiana. With all precincts reporting, he defeated Landrieu by just under 12 percentage points, uncertified results showed.
“This victory happened because people in Louisiana voted for a government which serves us but does not tell us what to do,” Cassidy told a jubilant crowd in Baton Rouge.
Cassidy becomes the ninth Republican to capture a previously Democratic seat this year in a runoff held because no candidate secured a majority in the Nov. 4 open primary.
Landrieu, 59, had been fighting to remain one of only two Democratic senators from the southeastern U.S. – a party stronghold a generation ago – after losses last month by Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and North Carolina.
“It has been nothing but a joy to serve this state for over 34 years,” Landrieu said before supporters in New Orleans, referring to a political career that began in the Louisiana state Legislature in 1980.
The top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Landrieu campaigned on her clout, a message complicated by her party’s loss of Senate control in last month’s midterms and her failed pipeline efforts.
Days before the runoff she seized on allegations that Cassidy, a medical doctor, falsified some time sheets and failed to file others for a part-time Louisiana State University hospital job. Cassidy has denied the allegations, which the school says it is reviewing.
Landrieu’s difficulties were compounded by the scant financial support she received from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and outside groups ahead of the runoff.
Cassidy had no similar problems. Ads supporting him and critical of Landrieu saturated the airwaves, including one 30-second anti-Landrieu video released by Ending Spending Action Fund in late November featuring nine separate images of Obama.
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Tom Heneghan, Robert Birsel & Kim Coghill)