The Louisiana U.S. Senate race is headed to a runoff in a closely watched contest that will test the viability of a southern Democrat in an increasingly conservative state.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, 58, a third-term incumbent, and Republican U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy will face off again on Dec. 6 after neither won more than 50 percent of Tuesday's vote, preliminary results showed.
Landrieu, the only Democrat in Louisiana currently holding statewide elected office, received about 42 percent of the vote and was running neck-in-neck with Cassidy.
"This race is starting tonight," Landrieu told supporters. "The question facing the voters in Louisiana will be a very simple one: which candidate has a proven track record ... and which candidate has a record of running scared."
Cassidy, a medical doctor, refused to participate in several debates with Landrieu. He has sought to link Landrieu to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular among whites in the state, citing in particular her support for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
"It's going to come down to one fundamental issue -- do you want a senator who represents Barack Obama or a senator that represents you," he told an election night crowd.
"We have 32 more days. This is not over yet," he said, urging supporters to stay the course.
Landrieu faces a difficult path to re-election, analysts have said. Her victory six years ago was helped by strong turnout by black voters in a presidential election year. Analysts said blacks were unlikely to vote in such high numbers in the runoff.
Hurricane Katrina, which demonstrated Landrieu's ability to steer large recovery funds to her state, is also no longer a fresh memory for many voters.
With Republican Rob Maness, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel backed by the conservative Tea Party movement, now eliminated from the race, his backers could opt for Cassidy over Landrieu, who has campaigned on her clout as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"It's high time for Mary Landrieu to go," Maness told supporters as he ran a distant third with about 14 percent of the early results.
"While we may have fallen short tonight, we shocked the establishment, the media, and we made D.C. listen," he said.
Another runoff will decide the colorful race for Louisiana's 6th Congressional District. Disgraced former Governor Edwin Edwards, a Democrat who served almost nine years in prison on public corruption charges, will go to a runoff with Republican Garrett Graves, who is a former top aide to Governor Bobby Jindal.
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