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Landrieu Needs A Game Changer To Hold On To Her Senate Seat

With almost all the votes counted, the only Senate race in which we won’t be able declare a winner for another month is Louisiana. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will face Republican Bill Cassidy in a runoff on December 6, after neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote last night. While Landrieu won 42 percent to Cassidy’s 41 percent on Tuesday, Landrieu is in dire straits for December.

The reason is that Cassidy was splitting his base with Republicans Rob Maness and Thomas Clements in Louisiana’s open primary. The total vote percentage for the Republican candidates on Tuesday was 55.8 percent, while the combined vote of all the Democrats was just 43.5 percent.

There’s a high probability that in December Cassidy will win the vast majority of the votes cast for the other Republicans. This is illustrated well by the network exit poll, which shows that voters on Tuesday favored Cassidy by 8 percentage points over Landrieu in a runoff.

Landrieu might look to history for hope in the runoff. Perhaps, she can argue that she’ll be an independent voice in a Republican-controlled Senate. She was able to do something similar in 2002, after the Republican candidates in that election, too, combined for greater than 50 percent of the vote in the November election. Landrieu was able to win that runoff 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, after Republicans clinched a majority in the Senate that year.

The problem for Landrieu is that Louisiana’s political environment in 2014 doesn’t look at all like it did in 2002. The state was only about 8 percentage points more Republican than the country in the 2000 presidential election. In the 2012 presidential election, it was about 21 percentage points more Republican than the nation.

Moreover, the combined Democratic candidates’ vote in the 2002 Senate election in Louisiana was 47.9 percent versus 50.6 percent for the Republicans. In other words, it was a much closer primary than what occurred on Tuesday. If Landrieu is able to gain 3.8 percentage points in December, like she did in 2002, she’d still only take 47.3 percent of the vote in the runoff.

No matter how you look at it, Landrieu is in deep trouble in a month.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.