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Hot Senate Race Tops Nov. 5 Ballot 

A federal primary coinciding with local runoffs promises to lead to a high-turnout election day.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu hopes to win a second term in the Nov. 5 federal primary. To do that, the Democratic incumbent has to beat three major GOP challengers and five lesser-knowns. Landrieu entered the race a decided favorite, but the Republican Party has made her a target in its efforts to recapture the Senate.

If a runoff is needed to settle any of Louisiana's federal elections, it will be held Dec. 7 -- which will be the final election date in the country in this electoral cycle.

A runoff is the fondest hope of national and local Republicans, who are looking to recapture the Senate at Landrieu's expense. For her part, Landrieu has the support of a number of local Republicans, including Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon. She also has backing from business leaders across south Louisiana. Her campaign has focused on her credentials -- chair of an important Armed Services subcommittee, membership on the Appropriations Committee, and voting for President Bush's tax cut.

National GOP interests are painting a different picture in scorching attack ads that claim Landrieu voted for 120 tax increases while ensconcing herself in a "Washington mansion." Landrieu countered with a TV ad featuring Louisiana's popular U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who calls the attack ads misleading and says Landrieu voted for compromises that he personally negotiated with Bush.

Locally, Landrieu's opposition comes mostly from three Republican challengers who represent the diverse geo-political interests of the Louisiana GOP.

Congressman John Cooksey is a three-term U.S. representative from Monroe who has honored a self-imposed three-term limit. Cooksey is a staunch conservative who made national headlines after the 9/11 attacks by defending racial profiling with his now-famous "diaperhead" remark. Cooksey's supporters include Gov. Mike Foster, who is helping him raise money, and prominent Jefferson Parish Republican leaders such as Assessor Lawrence Chehardy.

State Rep. Tony Perkins of Baton Rouge is the darling of the Religious Right in Louisiana. An outspoken opponent of abortion, he is expected to do better on election day than polls currently indicate because of the fervor and organization of his supporters. Six years ago, Perkins managed the campaign of then-state Rep. Woody Jenkins against Landrieu, which ended only after a protracted election challenge in the Senate. This time around, Jenkins is supporting Cooksey.

State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik-Terrell was drafted into the race by conservative Republican senators and others who see her as the party's best hope to beat Landrieu. A former New Orleans City Council member, Terrell shares a geographic base with Landrieu and both appeal to women. She received a major infusion of cash -- more than $450,000 -- shortly after qualifying, courtesy of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her ads tout her record of reforming the corrupt elections office and cutting the department's budget by some $20 million.

The hallmark of the in-state GOP campaign has been in-fighting, particularly between Perkins and Terrell. Perkins has blasted Terrell for being pro-choice, a charge Terrell denies. Advertising by all major candidates is expected to drop off in the final week of the state primary to make sure voters are not confused as to the Nov. 5 federal election date. After Saturday, however, things will heat up quickly -- again.

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