WASHINGTON – Wednesday marked the second anniversary of President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law —– and of the work his infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu did to start fixing bridges, improving highways and all sorts of neglected public works.
Landrieu is said to be leaving his job on good terms in the coming months. He reported about 40,000 projects were underway or nearing action. (Landrieu won't comment on reports of his departure.)?That's a remarkable amount of work, especially given the bureaucracy that accompanies federal dollars.?
Donald Trump, the leading GOP candidate who lost to Biden in 2020, is 77. The polls suggest that voters are also concerned about Trump's age, but that they have become increasingly worried about Biden's cognitive state during his three years as commander-in-chief.
James Carville, the New Orleans resident and legendary political consultant who helped elect President Bill Clinton, has said repeatedly that Biden will likely lose to Trump, especially if third-party candidates are on the ballot.
David Axelrod, of the University of Chicago, who helped elect President Barack Obama, also has been ringing that bell. “I think with Donald Trump on the other end, he (Biden) could still win this election. But the age issue is difficult,” he said Nov. 12 on CNN.
All of this has the chattering class wondering if another Democrat should pick up the mantle. A half-dozen recently published lists of possible candidates?— should Biden withdraw?— all include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, 41, who retains support among younger voters; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, 52, who won a state that backed Trump; California Gov. Gavin Newsom, 56, who has money, popularity and a growing national profile; and Vice President Kamala Harris, 59, who is the first woman in history to hold that office and is arguably the default choice.
So: What about Landrieu?
He has spent the last two years traveling tens of thousands of miles around the country. It's a role that has involved helping state and local officials, of both parties, quickly navigate the bureaucracy to get the federal money to start often long hoped-for infrastructure projects?— not a bad launching pad for a campaign.
Of all the speculative lists of possible Biden replacements, Landrieu, 63, was mentioned in only one, in what amounted to a footnote.
While Landrieu has given no indication he's interested?— and there's no way he could do so right now, without sabotaging Biden?— five years ago he was openly flirting with a run.
Back then, Landrieu said he would never challenge Biden, and presumably that rule still applies.
But if Biden is out? New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in November 2022 that “a Landrieu candidacy elicits the most discussion and excitement from Democratic intelligentsia.”
That may not be a universally held view. Back in 2018, as candidates were lining up to challenge Trump, The Washington Post ranked Landrieu 13th of the options, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey on a list that included Biden, Buttigieg and Harris.
Landrieu's role in the removal of Jim Crow-era monuments in New Orleans?— and a book he wrote about it, a near-requisite for a candidate for the Oval Office?— helped propel him into the national conversation.
Five years ago, Charles Blow, a Louisiana native and a columnist for The New York Times, weighed Landrieu’s odds and deemed him an unlikely contender that year. If 2018 was not Landrieu’s time, Blow wrote, “I’m sure one day he’ll have a moment.”
Could Landrieu give 2024 a look if Biden pulls the ripcord? Roy Fletcher, a seasoned Baton Rouge political strategist, thinks it's a long shot, but certainly within the realm of possibility.
“It’d be a hard pull for him,” Fletcher said. “His opportunity depends on how he stacks up with who is in the field with him.”
Certainly, Landrieu, as a true-blue Biden loyalist, would be among several candidates well-positioned to benefit from the president's support.
“This guy gets up early. He stays up late. We have made trips, if not every week, sometimes twice a week and three times a week," Landrieu told reporters last week. "And we have done it over and over again, and there’s nothing new here.”
Editor's note: This story was updated Nov. 18 to correct the description of James Carville.