The Slatest

Landrieu Bets Big on Keystone XL

Can Keystone save her?

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Sen. Mary Landrieu’s political future could hinge on the whim of just one of her Democratic colleagues.

The Senate is set to vote on Tuesday on whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline, a vote for which Landrieu has vociferously advocated. If the vote goes the Louisiana Democrat’s way, it could give her a new lease on political life. That’s because if 59 other Senators join Landrieu to vote in favor of constructing the pipeline, it will be fast-tracked to the president’s desk for his signature or (more likely) his veto. Its passage could suggest that she has significant influence in the Senate and that she could be a deal-broker with the incoming Republican majority. That might marginally burnish her re-election prospects.

Those prospects need all the burnishing they can get. Landrieu will face Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy in a runoff on Dec. 6. Given that Louisiana is very red, and that recent polls haven’t been pretty, you wouldn’t be blamed for drafting Landrieu’s political eulogy right now.

Her strategy thus far has been to emphasize her clout on the Hill, though, and helping to pass the Keystone XL pipeline might offer some evidence of that. She currently chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and she gave a lengthy speech on Nov. 12 calling for a vote on the pipeline. In that speech, she said moving forward on Keystone “is clearly supported by 60 or more members of this body.”

There’s a chance she’s wrong about that. The Hill reports that Keystone XL is one vote shy, and Landrieu is busy lobbying Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a retiring West Virginia Democrat, as well as Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. The upper chamber’s Republicans will probably all vote for the pipeline.

There’s debate as to whether a potential win would actually be that helpful for Landrieu’s future (or, in fact, for the future of the pipeline). But the bottom line is, it wouldn’t hurt, and it would give her something to talk about—if she can just get one more Democrat on board.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the vote backfires. If Landrieu can’t deliver the 60 votes necessary for passage, then that might undercut a key premise of her re-election campaign: that she can get legislation passed.