As of today, there are no announced candidates ready to challenge U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) when he faces the voters again next year. Vitter has already declared he will run for re-election to another six year term to the U.S. Senate. It is surprising that no candidates have surfaced considering the D.C. madam scandal that engulfed Vitter in July of 2007. After it was reported that Vitter’s phone number was listed numerous times on the call records of the D.C. madam, the Senator confessed to a very “serious sin.” He asked the voters for forgiveness, but did not disclose any details of his involvement with the call girl operation. Although the episode embarrassed Vitter, he has not been deterred from an active role in the U.S. Senate. In recent months, Vitter has been an extremely high profile opponent of several Obama cabinet nominations and cast one of only two votes against the confirmation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His activism has caught the attention of the press. Since the inauguration, Vitter has been interviewed on numerous cable news programs and has been featured in influential Capitol Hill websites such as the Congressional Quarterly and the Politico.
Since the scandal occurred in the middle of Vitter’s term, he has had time to recover politically. He has over $2 million in his campaign war chest and recently held a fundraiser headlined by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Vitter has not been officially endorsed by Jindal, but it looks like he has the support of most of the GOP establishment. In recent weeks, Vitter has also met with the leadership of the Louisiana Family Forum and has introduced numerous bills in the U.S. Senate that have the strong backing of Christian conservative organizations in Louisiana.
Vitter’s outreach to social conservatives has already paid dividends. For several months, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Center, had considered entering the race against Vitter. Several evangelical leaders had privately encouraged Perkins to challenge Vitter, citing the political damage from the D.C. Madam revelation. Yet, after weighing his options, Perkins decided to forgo the race and officially endorse Vitter. Perkins sent a letter to Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere formally removing his name from speculation.
This endorsement will give a big boost to Vitter, since Perkins has strong ties to the evangelical community throughout Louisiana and has occupied a very high profile position for the last several years. With Perkins on the sidelines, the only other potential GOP opponent for Vitter is Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who is weighing a possible candidacy. Dardenne is considered a moderate Republican who may be able to appeal to party members turned off by Vitter’s brash conservatism. An insider advising Dardenne confirmed his interest in the race and said that the Secretary of State would make a final decision in the “next few weeks.” If Dardenne does not run, it seems unlikely that Vitter will be challenged in the GOP primary. One other potential candidate, former Congressman John Cooksey of Monroe, recently squelched the rumors about his entry into the race and also endorsed Vitter.
On the Democratic side, no one has announced to run against Vitter. The strongest potential candidate, U.S. Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-Napoleonville) practically ruled out a race. In an interview with The Courier of Houma, Melancon said he was “not contemplating a run at this time.” As the only congressional Democrat from Louisiana and an influential member of the Blue Dog coalition, Melancon has been enjoying more responsibility and notoriety since Barack Obama was elected President. If he ran for the Senate, Melancon would not be able to retain his congressional seat because the elections are concurrent.
Other potential Democratic candidates include Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard, former Governor Kathleen Blanco, and former Congressman Chris John. As a wild card, some Democrats are trying to persuade Democratic operative James Carville, a new resident of New Orleans, to enter the race, but the former Clinton advisor is an extreme long shot candidate and will almost certainly forgo the campaign.
Another long shot possibility is porn star Stormy Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge. Daniels is an Independent who was contacted by local political consultant Zach Hudson about entering the race. Hudson started a website to draft Daniels and says that the adult star is considering a challenge to Vitter. Daniels announced plans for a “listening tour” later on in the year.
At this point, Vitter is the strong favorite to win re-election despite the scandal. Vitter has two other factors helping his cause. For one, the state is trending more Republican post-Katrina and the Louisiana Democratic Party is currently very weak as their difficulty recruiting a candidate clearly shows. In addition, Vitter has history on his side. An incumbent U.S. Senator is almost never defeated in Louisiana. The last time it happened was during the era of the Kingfish, Huey Long.