Even if Landrieu and some other Democrats still hold appeal, supporting her would affect other political plans, especially chamber-endorsed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's effort to muster a Republican majority. "The No. 1 priority of the U.S. chamber's political program is to make Senator McConnell the majority leader in the United States Senate," the chamber's political director, Rob Engstrom, told the Lexington Herald-Leader in mid-March after his organization officially backed the Kentuckian.
In a more recent interview, Engstrom said he meant it as a gesture of support for McConnell's leadership and that the chamber's "race-by-race, state-by-state" approach remains in effect. "Our criteria never incorporate partisanship," he said. Endorsements for Democrats like Landrieu are still a distinct possibility.
Don't expect to find out anytime soon. Engstrom notes that the political environment continues to evolve rapidly, especially in the Senate, where top-tier Republican challengers just started campaigns in New Hampshire and Colorado. Many of the chamber's endorsement decisions are a ways off, apart from a few Republican incumbents already fighting tough primaries.
"Our priority is protecting and growing the pro-business majority in the House and making gains in the Senate," Engstrom said. "We haven't endorsed in a majority of Senate races at this point. But partisanship is not a factor in our endorsement process — period. There is never a day where anyone says, 'Well, but this is what it means for the Senate [majority].' "
The endorsement stats show an organization leaning more Republican lately. The chamber's PAC contributions to Democrats bounced up and down over the past decade, but then they cratered in the last two elections. Twenty congressional Democrats received chamber money in 2008, the year the group devoted more than $1 million in outside spending to backing Landrieu, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The chamber endorsed three other Senate Democrats that year — Montana's Max Baucus, Arkansas's Mark Pryor, and Virginia's Mark Warner.
In 2010, only six Democrats received PAC funds from the chamber of commerce, and only five did in 2012, according to CRP. And since the passage of Obamacare and a raft of other major Democratic legislation in 2010, just one Senate Democrat — West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who wasn't in Congress for that vote — has won a chamber endorsement. There were none in 2012.
While that decline is not in dispute, the reasons for it are. "We've seen a lot of retirements," Engstrom says, and plenty of business-aligned Democrats were also defeated in the 2010 GOP wave election. Most of the House Democrats the chamber supported with outside spending in 2010 lost. Both political parties have become more homogeneous over the last 30 years, a trend for which 2010 serves as an interesting marker. In National Journal's vote ratings for that year, there was no overlap between the parties in the Senate; the most conservative Democrat was still more liberal than the most liberal Republican. That pattern has continued for three years.