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Sen. Landrieu's First GOP Rival Sets In Motion Key 2014 Contest

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, considered among the most vulnerable of the Senate's red-state Democrats facing 2014 re-election, now has at least one potential Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy, whose congressional district includes Baton Rouge.

Cassidy, who first won his House seat in 2008, on Wednesday announced his run in a video that contains clues about how he intends to campaign against Landrieu if he gets his party's nomination. And whoever eventually wins the GOP nod could very well use the same campaign playbook.

First, he uses the time-tested "rubber stamp" strategy against her, as in she is merely President Obama's ideological Mini-Me in the Senate.

Second, he implies that Landrieu has been in Washington too long:

"It's gonna be a tough race. I'm running against Sen. Mary Landrieu who's been there for 18 years [he emphasized that number for effect, although it's actually only 16 years since she took office] and against the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama. President Obama wants Sen. Landrieu re-elected. She supports President Obama 97 percent of the time, has given him a blank check for his wasteful spending."

Actually, Obama may not be quite as unpopular in Louisiana as that comment suggests.

A recent poll by Southern Media Opinion & Research gave Obama a 43 percent approval rating in Louisiana. That's in a red state, and one where Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal was at 38 percent.

Landrieu, who comes from a famous Louisiana political family, remains popular, with a 56 percent approval rating in the poll. But her seat is seen as one of several potential Republican pickups in 2014, as the GOP attempts to regain control of the Senate.

But to challenge Landrieu, Cassidy needs to first win conservatives to his cause to capture the GOP nomination. His words seem aimed mostly at them.

Third, Cassidy wants voters to see Landrieu as having been transformed by Washington, and not for the better. "Now, Mary's a nice person, but she's changed," Cassidy says, noting that "she was one of the deciding votes for Obamacare."

For a veteran like Landrieu, who will be in her fourth Senate campaign, Cassidy's strategy shouldn't be too difficult to counter. Landrieu can point to times she's differed with Obama on issues that really matter to Louisianans, like when she accused the administration of delaying offshore oil and gas drilling by denying permits. Even conservatives took notice.

Where Cassidy could give her trouble is with his bio. When he's not tending to his congressional duties, he tends patients as a practicing physician, and co-founded the Baton Rouge Community Clinic, which gives working poor patients access to free dental and medical care.

That could make it a hard sell for Landrieu or the Democratic Party to portray him as a conservative with little interest in the plight of low-income people.

Another Republican congressman-physician, Rep. John Fleming, reportedly also could enter the Senate race. And a third reported possibility is former GOP Congressman Jeff Landry, who once was photographed holding aloft a sign that said "Drilling=Jobs" during an Obama speech to a joint session of Congress.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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