Thoughts on Melancon Versus Vitter

For once, I half-way agree with conservative blogger Scott McKay of The Hayride. Quoting from The Advocate:

“Why is it that illegal immigrants are a racist issue?” McKay said. “The ad was over the top, but the reaction was more over the top.”

McKay was more puzzled as to why Vitter stepped into the issue since he’s been considered in the lead of the race.

“It’s almost like throwing a pass when you’re up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter,” McKay said. “I would be running out the clock if I was Vitter. But that’s not his style.”

Mr. McKay was referring to David Vitter’s recent television advertisement, which accuses his opponent, Charlie Melancon, of protecting illegal immigrants against a cartoonish, carnival-like backdrop of thuggish-looking hispanics sneaking across the border and then being handed oversized checks from the federal government.

Mr. McKay is right: The ad is “over the top,” and considering Mr. Vitter is positioned as the frontrunner, it’s not clear why he felt it necessary to run such an incendiary and hyperbolic ad. Maybe it’s just Vitter’s “style,” as Mr. McKay claims. But it’s wrong-headed to suggest that critics of Mr. Vitter’s ad are simply attempting to make illegal immigration in to a “racist issue;” that’s completely missing the point. Mr. McKay would have been wise to listen to himself: Again, the ad was “over the top.” I think most reasonable Americans would understand why Hispanic and Mexican-Americans have criticized Mr. Vitter for the ad.

For one, it’s just not accurate. As The Washington Post details:

Aside from reproducing a number of racial stereotypes, the ad is also pretty misleading. It highlights mostly symbolic votes that wouldn’t have added any actual changes to federal law — on issues that Melancon, who is basically an immigration hawk, has supported.

“Melancon voted to make it easier to get taxpayer-funded benefits for illegals…” Based on the citation in the ad, this vote would have “required affordable-housing beneficiaries to show proof of legal residency.” But undocumented immigrants are already ineligible for affordable housing or any other federal benefits, and the amendment was part of a motion to recommit, generally the last attempt by the minority to keep a bill from a final vote, that fell along party lines. Melancon has actually voted to prevent unauthorized immigrants from receiving affordable housing benefits.

“…and actual welfare checks.” This vote was meant to prevent unauthorized immigrants from receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC was actually a Republican idea, meant to be an alternative to traditional welfare. This amendment was also part of a motion to recommit, in other words, another Republican attempt to kill the bill in question. You have to be a legal resident in order to claim the EITC.

“Voted against allowing police to arrest illegals.” This claim is actually a bit confusing. The amendment this is referring to would have “clarifie[d] the existing authority of state and local enforcement personnel to apprehend, detain, remove, and transport illegal aliens in the routine course of duty.” Longstanding practice is that local police have the authority to enforce criminal, not civil violations of the law, but this has been in dispute since the Bush administration. Still, it’s hard to characterize this vote as preventing police from arresting unauthorized immigrants, since it’s not like it makes the 287(g) program illegal or something.

In other words, Vitter’s really, really stretching the truth. In fact, as The Times-Picayune reported, Mr. Vitter and Mr. Melancon actually have similar track records on the issue of immigration:

Trying to use the immigration topic against Melancon seems a little counter-intuitive. NumbersUSA, a leading immigration-control group that grades the voting records of members of Congress, rates both Vitter and Melancon as allies on the issue, and, in fact, Melancon scores far better in their rankings than three of Vitter’s Republican colleagues in the Louisiana delegation. NumbersUSA gave Reps. Charles Boustany of Lafayette a “C+,” Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge a “C,” and Anh “Joseph” Cao of New Orleans a “D+.”

“Vitter in the Senate and Melancon in the House have earned the exact same B grade for their immigration work in this Congress,” said Roy Beck, the head of NumbersUSA.

Also, illegal immigration is not really a hot-button issue right now in Louisiana. Of course, recent news stories and the controversy over the Arizona law have re-energized a national discussion, but immigration isn’t one of the biggest problems uniquely affecting Louisiana. At least, it wasn’t a hot-button issue in Louisiana, until Mr. Vitter’s ad.

And that was the point of the ad, I suppose: It didn’t matter that he’d have to string together a series of undocumented and scandalous accusations about his opponent or that immigration hasn’t been among Louisiana’s top policy priorities; Mr. Vitter wanted to make a strong statement about illegal immigration, and regardless of the facts, he wanted to make his opponent look weak on the issue.

Immigration reform didn’t “find” David Vitter. David Vitter found immigration reform. As I said earlier, he and his opponent, Charlie Melancon, have similar records on the issue. It’s worth repeating: They have similar records.

Throughout this campaign season, David Vitter has attempted to paint Charlie Melancon as “Obama’s biggest fan,” as if he is some sort of radical liberal. If you’ve ever met or you’ve ever followed the career of Charlie Melancon, then you know how ridiculous this caricature is. Charlie Melancon is a Blue Dog; he’s one of the guys who frequently infuriates the national left and progressives. At times, his votes have frustrated me. Melancon has always accurately described himself as a “conservative Democrat,” and that’s exactly what he is.

The Vitter campaign understood their candidate had the better name recognition statewide, but likely, they also understood that Mr. Vitter’s name recognition wasn’t merely due to his service in the United States Senate. Even though Mr. Vitter is an incumbent, his campaign has been airing a commercial, which is no longer available on Mr. Vitter’s YouTube channel, throughout the last month that declares “Charlie Melancon just may be Barack Obama’s best friend,” while the camera panned across a desk featuring a Charlie Melancon nameplate and littered with memorabilia (apparently) from Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign– tennis shoes, a clock, a bobblehead doll. Believe me, if Charlie Melancon was actually President Obama’s best friend, we would have already known; everyone in Louisiana would have already known. The ad is obviously exaggerated; its central thesis is easily disproven. And it’s not really about Charlie Melancon, the Blue Dog Congressman from Napoleonville, it’s about President Barack Obama. It’s not unusual for politicians to attack their opponents for belonging to the same political party as the sitting President. Ask Rahm Emanuel.

But in its totality, the ad is a gross mischaracterization of Mr. Melancon, a preemptive and expensive attempt at forcing Charlie Melancon to introduce himself and his candidacy in negative, defensive terms.

Some have suggested that Vitter’s two attack ads are both expressions of a subtle racism: The first ad represented the first African-American President by using images of athletic shoes adorned with Obama’s campaign logo and a wacky bobblehead figure in Obama’s likeness; it told voters to fear Charlie Melancon because of his alleged support of Obama. And the second ad was about stoking concerns around illegal immigration by showing shady-looking hispanics sneaking across a casino-like border and then hitting the jackpot, an implication that impoverished hispanics should be considered the uniform face of illegal immigration and that hispanics, particularly, are maliciously and illegally receiving benefits from the government.

Which brings me back to what Scott McKay said to The Advocate about David Vitter’s “style.”

David Vitter is the incumbent Republican, and while this cycle hasn’t necessarily favored incumbents, it has favored and probably will favor Republicans. To me, it seems likely that Nate Silver’s right: Republicans are poised to take control of the House, and Democrats should be able to hang on to the Senate. In Louisiana, David Vitter has always remained ahead in the polls, but the most recent poll suggests Melancon may be gaining traction. From The Washington Post:

Louisiana Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) has climbed to within seven points of Sen. David Vitter (R) in the state’s Senate race, according to a new poll for the Democrat’s campaign.

The Anzalone Liszt survey, which surveyed 600 likely voters between Oct. 9 and 12, shows Vitter at 49 percent and Melancon at 42 percent. That’s slightly closer than another Democratic poll — this one paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — had Melancon last month.

The campaign says the poll shows Melancon closing strongly since a previous internal poll in September, when Vitter was exploiting his financial advantage to drastically outspend Melancon on the airwaves.Melancon has been on television heavily in recent weeks.

Yes, Anzalone Liszt is a self-described “Democratic” pollster, as Mr. McKay points out on The Hayride, but unless and until anyone provides substantive and documented proof that Anzalone Liszt’s poll is fundamentally or statistically flawed, I think it would be wise and appropriate to take their numbers seriously. On Tuesday, Mr. McKay wrote a post titled “Thoughts on a 16-Point Race,” which was, essentially, a breakdown of the poll on the Vitter/Melancon race conducted by Magellan. Three days later, Mr. McKay wrote a post titled “Delusional Poll Numbers The Latest Melancon Tactic In Senate Race,” which was simply a flat-out rejection of the more recent Anzalone Liszt poll.

Trouble is, Magellan is considered to be a Republican-leaning pollster. Review their client list; they appear to be more like a part of the Republican Party establishment than just a Republican-leaning pollster.

Mr. Melancon may still remain behind, but I think, clearly, he’s gaining ground. He refused to allow Mr. Vitter to introduce him; he’s been introducing himself.

No doubt, Mr. Melancon and Louisiana Democrats have gone after David Vitter for various issues, including his support of a bill that would have capped damages during the BP oil disaster and his role in the D.C. Madam/prostitution scandal. But can anyone blame them?

For Louisianans, it SHOULD be important to remember that David Vitter was embroiled in what-really-was an international story about prostitution and politicians, though the salacious details shouldn’t matter as much as Mr. Vitter’s honesty, integrity, and seriousness of focus.

Some may be convinced by Mr. Vitter’s attempt to refocus the discussion on illegal immigration and President Obama, but I, for one, am not.

And I doubt I am alone.

Mr. Vitter is running for reelection. He should be running on his record, and frankly, he hasn’t been.