Alternate headline: Confirmed — Landrieu basically needs a miracle at this point.  One plugged-in observer of this race tweeted a few brutal indicators for the incumbent over the weekend, and now the Times-Picayune is out with a heartburn-inducing (for Democrats) story on early voting trends.  It’s panic-button time for Team Mary:

The number of people who cast their ballots early in Louisiana dropped off from the Nov. 4 primary election to the Dec. 6 runoff election in every statewide category except one: registered Republican voters.  About 85,900 registered Republicans took advantage of early voting for the Dec. 6 runoff, which was held during the week leading up Thanksgiving, as well as Saturday. That’s almost 3,000 more than the number of people who voted early for the Nov. 4 election, and it amounts to a 4 percent bump in early voting overall from a month ago.  The jump in early Republican voters is noteworthy, given that early voting overall dropped by 10 percent from the November primary to the December runoff. The number of registered Democrats who voted early fell even further — about an 18 percent decrease — from the primary to the runoff, according to information provided by the Secretary of State’s office…the biggest decline in early voters statewide happened among African Americans, who have typically backed Landrieu. The number of black voters casting early ballots fell by 24 percent from the Nov. 4 election period to the Dec. 6 election period.

The piece is littered with requisite caveats and ‘no big deal’ expressions of nonchalance from Democrats, but it seems as though the writing is on the wall for the three-term incumbent.  As I mentioned over at Townhall earlier, Landrieu isn’t merely fighting this year’s anti-Democratic undertow; she’s been weighed down by a string of controversies and missteps over the election season’s home stretch.  She doesn’t own a home in the state she purportedly represents, she’s blamed her electoral shortcomings on the supposed sexism and racism of an electorate that has thrice sent her to Washington — and that re-elected Gov. Bobby Jindal with two-thirds of the vote in 2011 — and then her fellow Senate Democrats kneecapped her in humiliating fashion on the Keystone Pipeline last month.  Now we can add this coup de grace from Landrieu’s own chief of staff to this list, which Jazz touched on briefly yesterday (skip ahead to the 0:34 mark):

“[President Obama] can’t finish his agenda because he doesn’t have people like Mary Landrieu with him…I’m asking you tomorrow to go out and vote for Senator Landrieu. She’s been in office for 18 years, and in the Senate, that’s what you need to get things done. And she will go on to support Barack Obama 97 percent of the time! [Cheers]”

Landrieu’s only prayer of getting re-elected relies on (a) surprisingly robust Democratic turnout and Republican complacency (ahem — see early voting numbers above), and (b) somehow convincing a wide swath of Louisianans that she’s an independent voice in the Senate, and not a slavish Obama devotee.  Her chief of staff just drove a stake through the heart of the latter fiction, explicitly citing her unflinching support for the president’s agenda as a selling point, albeit in a fire-’em-up speech to a narrow band of supporters for whom Obama will never be toxic.  Caught on tape, the Senator’s top staffer has helpfully confirmed Republicans’ most potent line of attack against his boss.  Here’s a new ad from Freedom Partners Action Fund, via Jim Geraghty:

“A vote for Mary Landrieu is a vote for President Obama.”

Time is short — the run-off election is on Saturday — but it might be wise investment for Republicans or an aligned  conservative group to turn the chief of staff’s comments into a closing argument-style commercial:  We’ve been telling you that Mary Landrieu is an unapologetic enabler of the Obama agenda.  In private, her most senior staffer agrees with us, but didn’t expect you to see this clip…