Louisianimal: Vitter faces hot seat, but won’t unseat, with newcomer

February 4, 2009

By Daniel Lumetta
Daily Reveille

Could the next junior senator from Louisiana be a former porn star?

After a curious ad — seeking an energized adult entertainer to challenge Sen. David Vitter, R-La; in the 2010 Congressional elections — appeared on Craigslist, another ad was posted recently confirming the bid was not a joke.

The word on the Bayou is Vitter is the No. 1 target for Democrats seeking a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

He’s so weak, in fact, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y; is allegedly recruiting Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, to unseat Vitter.

Vitter also faces some in-house troubles with Republicans who won’t support him — either because they think he’s incapable of being re-elected or because they support Secretary of State Jay Dardenne — after his recent prostitution scandal.

And with a porn star in the race to remind everyone of Vitter’s marital indiscretions, a third candidate might have a real shot at victory.

LSU Louisiana history instructor Marc Petanaude said the stunt wasn’t a bad idea because many have forgotten about the scandal. With the affair fresh on everyone’s mind, Vitter could lose support and be forced to spend extra time and resources defending his name.

Petanaude referred to the porn star as a political hitman. Her candidacy translates into opportunity for other potential candidates — it means no one has to sling mud at Vitter over a sensitive issue.

So other candidates can take the high road by focusing on substance while Vitter’s attention would be split over policy and politics, said Petanaude.

Labeling Vitter an “invalid Republican” because of his moral failings and fiscal record might successfully separate him from the ideals of the traditional conservative, opening possibilities for challengers.

And if two high profile Republicans like Vitter and Dardenne are pitted against each other, there’s a possibility they could split the vote — and the porn star could edge the election away from Vitter.

Louisiana voters also have historically supported personalities over parties. There’s a tendency in the state to support larger-than-life figures.

With all these cards stacked against him, surely the hypocritical, philandering Vitter couldn’t possibly be re-elected.

Not so fast.

First, the tendency to support grand characters stopped after the civil rights era, said Petanaude. Since then, personality fault lines have been less likely.

Petanaude and mass communication professor Bob Mann agreed the last politician to take advantage of this type of appeal was the Cajun from Crowley, Edwin Edwards.

Petanaude said the idea that a Cajun will vote for a Cajun has some merit but isn’t likely.

Mann quickly dismissed any ethnic loyalties as a factor in voting.

“The Cajuns who’ve won recent elections – like Blanco, Melancon, Tauzin and others – won because their philosophies were attuned to their constituencies, not because they were Cajun,” Mann said.

Second, Vitter’s base likely won’t abandon him after constant pestering about morality from a porn star. Some suggest the plan might actually backfire and motivate conservatives to support Vitter even more eagerly.

Petanaude and Mann agreed.

Further, just because Vitter is the Democrats’ No. 1 target, doesn’t mean he’s the most vulnerable target.

“There’s no one lining up to challenge him,” Mann said.

If Louisiana still operated under the open primary, someone like Dardenne might have a real shot. But since 2006, federal elections in Louisiana have operated under the closed primary system.

Dardenne has allegedly considered running but is concerned about his chances of defeating Vitter in a closed primary. Mann said Dardenne’s concerns aren’t far off the mark, but Gov. Bobby Jindal is an overlooked element in the equation.

Without Jindal’s support, Vitter might be vulnerable to Dardenne.

“Jindal could destroy Vitter with one press conference, but he won’t,” Mann said.

So the likelihood that a credible challenger will emerge looks slim.

“And where will disaffected voters go without a credible opponent to support?” Mann said.

So a porn star’s entrance in the midterm elections will likely only cause embarrassment for Vitter, rather than tilting the results in any particular direction.

Factors more likely to lead to Vitter’s downfall would be the emergence of one or more viable candidates or further scandal developments, Mann said.

So what effect, if any, will this porn star have on the 2010 Louisiana Senate race?
It probably won’t do anything except embarrass Vitter.

But what’s more important than reminding us Vitter had an affair while professing family values is reminding us the media is to blame for letting Vitter get away with it all.

In reality, this episode doesn’t open up any real opportunities for the porn star in question.

But it does offer a chance for a necessary media criticism.

“It’s really remarkable how Vitter got away with all this,” Mann said. “He still hasn’t answered one question about the scandal. [The media] should have dogged him.”

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