Rob Engstrom, the US Chamber of Commerce’s national political director, recently told a gathering of trade association executives that the Chamber planned to endorse Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in her reelection bid this year. The endorsement, reported by the New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, could decide the balance of power in the Senate and preserve Sen. Harry Reid as majority leader.
Landrieu, running in crimson-red Louisiana, is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this November. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, she trails her leading Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, by one point. An endorsement from the Chamber could throw her a critical lifeline as she tries to separate herself from Obama and national Democrats and position herself as a conservative Democrat.
Because of the unique way Louisiana conducts its elections, the Chamber endorsement could also lead to an upside-down political world where the ostensibly pro-business interest group is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s last line of defense to hang on to his leader’s gavel.
Louisiana holds its primary election on the same day other states conduct their general election. The top two voter getters in Louisiana then proceed to a run-off election in December. It is not improbable that control of the Senate could hang on the outcome of the December run-off in Louisiana. Having endorsed Landrieu, the Chamber would find itself fighting to keep Democrats in control of the Senate.
Two of the Chamber’s current top legislative priorities are preserving the Export-Import Bank, which subsidizes foreign sales of certain manufactured goods and comprehensive immigration reform. Both of the issues have put the Chamber on the opposite side of many conservatives.
The Chamber recently faced a political setback when one of its supported candidates lost in part because of its backing of him.
In Georgia, businessman David Perdue surprised many political observers by beating GOP Rep. Jack Kingston in the Republican run-off for retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat seat. Perdue edged Kingston by tying the Congressman to the Chamber and running ads against the Chamber’s endorsement of Kingston. It is perhaps the first time the Chamber’s endorsement cost a candidate an election in a Republican primary.