Now, no one gives Landrieu much of a chance. “She’s going to lose—it’s just a matter of how much,” Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster who works for both Republicans and Democrats, tells me. (Pinsonat began as a Democratic pollster, but that is no longer much of a viable occupation in this state.) Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport-based political analyst, adds: “She’ll have trouble doing better than the 42 percent she got in the primary, and it could be worse than that.” Many observers question Landrieu’s campaign strategy, from her muddled message to the way she has allocated her funds. But, says Bob Mann, a former Democratic staffer who now writes a newspaper column and teaches at Louisiana State University, “She could be the best swimmer in the world, and it wouldn’t matter. The tide is just too strong.”

Still, Landrieu must go through the motions. She must play out the string. “I am fighting hard until the end,” she announces in Hammond, surrounded by several local mayors and state legislators and a couple of dozen supporters. December in Louisiana: sunny and 80 degrees. Outside the canopy, a man and a woman with six platinum-blond children are waving a sign that says, “Babies are a blessing. Choose life.” They are handing out pro-Cassidy literature. On the other side of the canopy, a woman is holding a Sierra Club sign that says, “Keep the Frack Out of My Water.” (Landrieu is pro-fracking.)

Landrieu approaches a pair of grandmotherly women in Democratic Party T-shirts and puts her arm around one of them. They’ve been making phone calls on her behalf, and she wants to know if the word is getting out—are people starting to see that this race isn’t about the national parties, but about the local matters Landrieu wants it to be about? Has anything changed since the primary?