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Top 10 Ways to Blow an Election 

No doubt Mary Landrieu is feeling pretty good these days after her 40,000-vote win over Republican challenger Suzanne Haik Terrell in the nation's final U.S. Senate race. In the last days of the runoff, Landrieu looked like the underdog. The GOP pulled out all the stops, spared no expenses and took no prisoners.

But Landrieu held on, thanks to some last-minute Republican blunders, some shrewd moves by her own campaign, and a dose of pure dumb luck.

Truth is, both candidates ran campaigns that were at times very good and at other times painfully bad. Ultimately, Landrieu made fewer mistakes, whereas Terrell's miscues came at the worst possible time.

With a nod to David Letterman, here's a little primer for future statewide candidates: my Top 10 Ways to Blow an Election. As you'll see from the list, both Landrieu and Terrell provided their share of lessons.

10. Fail to Define Yourself From the Get-Go. In her first term, Landrieu was a very effective moderate Democrat with great committee assignments who delivered for Louisiana -- but you'd never know it from her early ads. Instead, she posed as an ally of President Bush. This left an opening for the GOP to define her as a tax-and-spend liberal -- an opportunity the Republicans seized early and often.

9. Inject Religion Into Politics. When will the GOP learn? Abortion is a critical issue, but it's not the only issue that counts. Moreover, Terrell's comment during one debate that Landrieu had abandoned her faith was an all-time low-water mark that actually convinced many Catholics to support Landrieu in spite of her pro-choice positions.

8. Run Overconfident. Both women were guilty of this -- Landrieu in the primary and Terrell in the runoff, particularly right after Bush's visit. The cardinal rule of campaigning is "run scared." If you don't, you run the risk of running second.

7. Be Heavy-Handed. I think attacks play an important and very legitimate role in campaigns. But the mean-spirited, exaggerated (to put it mildly), and personal attacks that the GOP ran -- to the point of overkill -- turned off a lot of moderate voters and helped Landrieu squeak by in the end.

6. Never Stop Attacking. Another cardinal rule of campaigning is "finish positive." The national GOP hates to do that. It's a mistake they've made for years, so one must assume they just prefer to be mean. They've paid for it before, Terrell paid for it this time, and Republicans will keep paying for it until they learn to control their bloodlust.

5. Take Your Base for Granted. Landrieu made this blunder among black voters in the primary by wrapping herself around President Bush so tightly that she no longer looked like a Democrat. She recovered in time, but just barely.

4. Reinvent Yourself. Both women were guilty of this to some extent, but Terrell was much worse. Deep down, she's a moderate, pro-choice Republican whose moderation should have been her strong suit. Instead, she let herself be morphed into an intolerant, right-wing, anti-abortion zealot. It didn't fit her any better than trying to be a Bushie fit Landrieu in the primary.

3. Make Enemies. Terrell's most ardent detractors are not Democrats but Republicans. From Gov. Mike Foster to Congressman John Cooksey to countless GOP faithful in her own Uptown neighborhood, many who should be Terrell's backers say there's something about Suzie they just don't like.

2. Forget That All Politics Are Local. Again, both women made this mistake. Landrieu did it in the primary by sidling up to Bush instead of establishing her credentials as a Democrat who delivers. Terrell did it in the runoff by relying on national names and issues instead of local ones.

1. Ignore Attack Ads. Landrieu could have won this race in the primary by answering the national GOP's attack ads. Instead, she tried to place herself above it all. That was dumb, and it almost cost her the election. Even ads that make no sense -- such as the "Washington mansion" ad -- must be answered. Otherwise, voters assume they are correct.


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