NEW ORLEANS -- At a rally for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on Saturday, the speakers belted out "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," promising that if you call her name, wherever you are, she'll be there in a hurry.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there, one among a parade of figures trying to prop up Landrieu ahead of Tuesday's election and an expected December runoff against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Many of the speakers at Saturday's rally tried to distance Landrieu from President Barack Obama and instead associate her with Clinton, a more popular Democrat.
"'Mary, isn't this your hardest campaign? Aren't you tired? Aren't you aggravated?'" Landrieu said people in Washington have been asking her. But despite the challenges, she said, "this doesn't scare us at all."
Nevertheless, the poll numbers look grim -- so bad that state party Chair Karen Carter Peterson implored supporters at the rally to ignore them. Although Landrieu has a plurality in polls of the three-way matchup with Cassidy and Tea Party Republican Rob Maness, should the race go to a December runoff under the state's "jungle primary," Landrieu's numbers drop to an average of 42 percent against Cassidy's 47 percent.
The blame lies in part with Obama, who is deeply unpopular among Louisiana voters. During the 2014 campaign, Republicans have emphasized both the president's signature health care reform law and his alleged hostility to oil and gas interests, a major industry in the state. Nearly 57 percent of voters in the state disapprove of the job that Obama is doing, according to the HuffPost Pollster model.
Speaking to NBC's Chuck Todd on Thursday, Landrieu cited Obama's energy policies as one reason he is not more popular in Louisiana. Another reason, she said, was that "the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans." Republicans jumped on that comment, sensing a gaffe. But Landrieu doubled down on her remarks in a Friday statement.
"I don't think that was a foot-in-the-mouth moment," historian Douglas Brinkley, a longtime observer of Louisiana politics, told The Huffington Post. "I think that was deliberate. She might feel that she needs to talk straight in that way to energize the African-American population in Louisiana."
Cassidy has made full use of Obama's unpopularity on the campaign trail. That was the subject of a joke told by another of Landrieu's supporters, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who is now a lobbyist. Whenever Cassidy is asked about energy or minimum wage policy, joked Breaux, his answer is simply: "Obama bad."
"This election is not a presidential election," Breaux told the supporters at Saturday's rally. "It's a Louisiana election."
Landrieu's voting record puts her far to the right of most Senate Democrats. She has used her position as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to advance Louisiana's energy interests.
Clinton herself hardly mentioned Obama on Saturday, instead telling the crowd about watching Landrieu in action in the Senate after Hurricane Katrina. "Her passion for this state is so palpable," said Clinton. "She never forgets where she came from."
But if a runoff happens, Cassidy and his supporters are sure to keep trying to make the election about Obama. They may point to Landrieu's 97 percent support for the president's positions, as graded by Congressional Quarterly.
This election is "the hardest challenge she's ever faced, because she's in a climate where the whole South is becoming solidly Republican," said Brinkley. "If she ran in '16, if Hillary Clinton were the nominee, it would have been a much rosier scenario."