WASHINGTON — Sen. Roger Wicker led the successful campaign to retain GOP control of the Senate as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but he said this week his job isn’t done.
The Mississippi senator spent Monday in Louisiana trying to help fellow Republican John Kennedy in his bid for the Senate in next weekend’s runoff election. Wicker plans to return Saturday to join Vice President-elect Mike Pence on the stump for Kennedy.
“It’s the only show in town and we’re taking it seriously,” Wicker said.
National Republicans have shifted their attention to Louisiana to make sure the seat remains in the GOP column. It’s the last Senate race in a cycle that had Republicans defending 24 seats. A win in Louisiana would mean Republicans boost their majority 52 to 48; six weeks ago it looked like the party could lose control of the chamber to Democrats.
Kennedy, the state treasurer, is battling Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. David Vitter. Kennedy nabbed 25% of the vote in the Nov. 8 election, while Foster came in second with 17%. Louisiana law holds that if no candidate wins more than 50% on Election Day, the top two vote-getters move on to a December runoff.
A week before the Dec. 10 showdown, Kennedy is leading by 14 points, according to a recent poll by Southern Media and Opinion Research. Political experts expect Republicans to keep the seat.
Still, national Republicans say they’re not taking anything for granted.
Wicker noted that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls just three weeks before Election Day and was expected to defeat Republican Donald Trump.
“Turns out she didn’t win,” said Wicker. “We have a Senate candidate in Louisiana who is leading in the polls named John Kennedy and I’m going to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to him.”
The NRSC has ramped up get-out-the-vote efforts and set up 10 field offices in Louisiana. Staffers and volunteers have fanned out across the state.
“All hands are on deck to close out this cycle strong,” said Greg Blair, a committee spokesman.
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who will soon be the senior senator from Louisiana, said winning the seat “absolutely matters.”
“If we keep Louisiana then that would be not only retain a majority, but (give us) one to grow on,’’ he said. “When there is only 100 (senators), 52 is better than 51.”
Cassidy, who plans to join Wicker and Pence Saturday, said he feels good about Kennedy’s prospects.
“We’re going to do what we can do to help John,” he said.
Louisiana Democrats, however, slam Pence’s visit.
“Pence is taking a minute to leave his conversation with millionaires and billionaires in order to come down to Louisiana to have another conversation with millionaires and billionaires that are trying to get their guy John Kennedy elected,” said Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Handwerk said state Democrats aren’t fretting over the Republican onslaught.
“We believe that they’ve got a flawed product,” he said. “They said that they have a flawed candidate because he used to be a Democrat and they attacked him up one side and down the other.”
Kennedy, a former Democrat, has unsuccessfully run three times for the Senate seat.
Unlike the NRSC, Handwerk said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hasn’t stepped up to help. He said the DSCC also “left us high and dry with (Sen.) Mary Landrieu.”
Landrieu, a Democrat, lost her re-election bid to Cassidy in a 2014 runoff.
“Now fast forward to today — they again are sitting on their heels,” Handwerk said of the DSCC.
But Handwerk said many also underestimated John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who defeated Vitter in a race for governor last year. Edwards has endorsed Campbell.
“I honestly believe in how this campaign is being run,’’ Handwerk said. “It’s being run by conversation. That’s how John Bel won.’’
Handwerk said the Democratic National Committee, however, has been working with the state party providing data resources and technical support, including digital marketing tools to target younger voters.
“We know that in runoffs in Louisiana … it’s really about who has the excitement behind them,’’ he said.
Wicker, however, says Republicans are crushing Democratic efforts.
“We are out-campaigning them when it comes to knocking on doors,’’ he said. “We’re out-campaigning them when it comes to digital. And we’re going to have a big splash when Mike Pence comes in and that’s going to be another thing that will remind people to vote.’’
Wicker said he feels good about winning this last Senate race.
“But we are not declaring victory yet,” he said. “We will do that Saturday night — the 10th”
Follow Deborah Barfield Berry on Twitter at @dberrygannett.
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