In an interview with Roll Call following a news conference here to talk about Vitter’s connections to BP, a clearly frustrated Melancon acknowledged that Vitter’s problems have not caught on with the public as much as Democrats expected they would.
“Its an embarrassment. … We are the laughingstock because people in Washington know we have David Vitter up there. He’s ineffective, he’s immoral, he’s ethically challenged and he’s morally bankrupt,” Melancon said.
One day, I think people may look at the race between Congressman Melancon and Senator Vitter as a fascinating case study in American politics.
Mr. Vitter was once left for dead by national Republicans, after he tacitly acknowledged his involvement in a prostitution ring in Washington, D.C. Mr. Vitter was the most well-known client of the so-called “D.C. Madam,” and despite his best efforts, Mr. Vitter still hasn’t been able to definitively shake off allegations that he was also involved with Wendy Cortez/Ellis/Yow, a New Orleans prostitute. Remember, Mr. Vitter was elected on a platform of “family values;” during his first run for U.S. Senate, Mr. Vitter’s young children were even given speaking roles in his campaign commercials. Folksy, feel-good, American family values. The trouble, of course, is that David Vitter was apparently breaking the law, violating his marriage vows, and paying for sex. To be fair, Mr. Vitter has only admitted to a “serious sin,” but he’s been careful not to categorically or definitively deny any of the specific allegations leveled against him. And that should be telling.
In most campaigns, if a challenger accuses the incumbent of being “ineffective,” “immoral,” “ethically challenged,” and “morally bankrupt,” they will be met with a rousing and spirited defense. So far, Mr. Vitter’s campaign seems more comfortable with running ads about President Obama and illegal immigration. Unlike six years ago, Mr. Vitter knows he can’t run on family values; he needs to nationalize this election, and in all fairness, he and his campaign have done a great job of both depersonalizing and nationalizing the context of this election.
According to Roll Call, some Louisiana Republicans are attributing Vitter’s viability to Louisiana’s laissez-faire perspective on the personal failings of politicians.
Republicans also privately speculate that the lack of apparent interest in Vitter’s dalliances may be tied to the state’s long tradition of not caring about its politicians’ ethical challenges. After all, former Gov. Earl Long (D) was known to associate with the famous exotic dancer Blaze Starr, while state lawmakers attempted to impeach former Sen. Huey Long (D) while he was governor.
Four-time Gov. Edwin Edwards (D), who left office in 1996, won his last race against former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke based in part on an infamous campaign slogan, “Vote for the Crook, It’s Important.”
I’m not sure this is the case for Senator Vitter. I think he has benefitted from an underfunded, uninformed, and uninterested state media. Sadly, Larry Flynt was more interested in exposing Mr. Vitter’s hypocrisies than anyone in the Louisiana mainstream media.
And Senator Vitter has benefitted from a national Democratic Party apparatus that has refused to seriously invest in Louisiana. Make no mistake: In Louisiana, there are more Democrats than Republicans, but for the most part, in Louisiana, Republicans are better funded, better organized, and better connected to their national party.
When Senator Vitter’s phone number appeared on the D.C. Madam’s phone records, the DNC and the DSCC, not just the Louisiana Democratic Party, should have ramped up their criticisms of Mr. Vitter. Instead, they allowed Mr. Vitter’s campaign to effectively control the campaign narrative, and today, despite Mr. Melancon’s best and most earnest attempts, David Vitter remains ahead in the polls and is still the odds-on favorite to win the election. I still have faith in the people of Louisiana and in Mr. Melancon, but I also wonder why the DNC and the DSCC have continued to neglect Louisiana at their own peril. Clearly, at least in my own estimation, Mr. Melancon is the better candidate; Mr. Melancon may be a Blue Dog, but I think, given the full panoply of facts, most Louisianans would support the Blue Dog over the Republican, Tea Party sympathizer any day of the week.
Then again, in Louisiana, Democrats and progressives are currently suffering from a severe enthusiasm gap, perhaps the largest of its kind in the nation and something that greatly benefits Mr. Vitter; in this cycle, voters haven’t been given the full panoply of facts.
So, let’s be honest about where we are in Louisiana:
Three years after Bobby Jindal campaigned on a platform that suggested Louisiana was a “rich state,” Mr. Jindal has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for higher education and health care. He has spearheaded a massive, $360 million sand berm construction project that experts believe to be ineffective, money that could have been better spent rebuilding barrier islands. Despite the warnings from experts, Jindal signed the Stelly Tax Plan repeal into law, resulting in an annual loss of nearly half a billion dollars to Louisiana during the worst recession in America since the Great Depression. It didn’t matter to Mr. Jindal that the majority of Louisiana voters approved the plan or that tax revenues were already declining. It also didn’t seem to matter that the repeal primarily benefitted the wealthy.
Governor Jindal may have asserted himself as a national leader in fundraising for the Republican Party, but so far, his accomplishments as Governor of Louisiana have been paltry. He’s traveled a lot, yes. He’s been all over the nation; he was even on national television responding to the President’s address to a joint session of Congress.
But what has he done for Louisiana?
How has he increased development or added to the tax base?
He’s subsidized a poultry processing plant in Northern Louisiana (a project that uniquely benefits Arkansas), and he’s pulled millions away from shovel-ready, community-driven, and value-added projects, like the New Orleans Food Cooperative, in order to help an out-of-state company build a steel plant in a rural parish.
It should be easy for Democrats in Louisiana. Yet for some reason, this cycle has been enormously difficult for them. They’ve been ineffective.
And I don’t get it. David Vitter has one of the worst and weakest records in the United States Senate, at least when it comes to policies concerning his state. So far, Governor Jindal seems to be more about marketing his own political brand than promoting the best interests of the State of Louisiana. Mr. Vitter and Mr. Jindal are Louisiana’s most influential Republicans.
Until national Democrats recognize the potential of picking up Louisiana, Mr. Vitter and Mr. Jindal, despite their flaws and contradictions, will continue to exert a powerful influence over the electorate. Democrats may not understand, but Republicans do.