The 1996 Louisiana United States Senate election was held on November 5, 1996 to select a new U.S. Senator from the state of Louisiana to replace retiring John Bennett Johnston, Jr. of Shreveport. After the jungle primary election, state treasurer Mary Landrieu went into a runoff election with State Representative Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, a former Democrat who had turned Republican two years earlier. She prevailed by 5,788 votes out of 1.7 million cast, the narrowest national result of the thirty-three races for the U.S. Senate that year and one of the closest election margins in Louisiana history. At the same time, Democrat Bill Clinton carried Louisiana by a considerable margin of 927,837 votes to 712,586 cast for Republican Bob Dole.
Jenkins refused to concede and charged massive election fraud, orchestrated by the Democratic political organization of New Orleans, provided Landrieu's narrow margin of victory. He took his case to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and petitioned for Landrieu's unseating pending a new election. In a hearing, carried live by C-SPAN, the Senate Rules Committee in a party-line 8-7 vote agreed to investigate the charges. The decision briefly placed Landrieu's status in the U.S. Senate under a cloud.
Only a month into the probe, however, it emerged that Thomas "Papa Bear" Miller, a detective hired by Jenkins to investigate claims of fraud, had coached witnesses to claim they had participated in election fraud. Three witnesses claimed Miller had paid them to claim that they had either cast multiple votes for Landrieu or drove vans of illegal voters across town. The others told such bizarre tales that FBI agents dismissed their claims out of hand. It also emerged that Miller had several felony convictions on his record, including a guilty plea to attempted murder. The Democrats walked out of the probe in protest, but the probe continued.
The investigation dragged on for over ten months, angering the Democrats and exacerbating partisan friction in the day-to-day sessions of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee to which Landrieu was assigned as a freshman member of the 105th Congress. Finally, in October 1997, the Rules Committee concluded that while there were major electoral irregularities, none of them were serious enough to burden Louisiana with a new election at that stage. It recommended that the results stand.
The Landrieu-Jenkins contest was not the only U.S. Senate election in 20th century Louisiana in which the results were hotly disputed. Future Senator John H. Overton claimed the renomination and hence reelection of Senator Joseph E. Ransdell was tainted by fraud. In 1932, Senator Edwin S. Broussard claimed that his primary defeat by Overton was fraudulent. In both cases, the Senate seated the certified winners, Ransdell and Overton, respectively.