Political Horizons for Feb. 15, 2009

February 15, 2009

By Mark Ballard
The Baton Rouge Advocate

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is traveling all over the country to raise money for his 2011 re-election run that, at least at this early date, appears unlikely to attract any serious competitors from the Democratic Party.

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter also has drawn no significant competition for his 2010 reelection bid.

Last week’s national coverage of a porn star’s flirtation with the race against Vitter merely underscores how weak the state’s Democratic Party has become.

In either race, there’s simply no opponent in the wings — a role Jindal served when Kathleen Blanco was governor — reminding voters of the alternative point of view.

Jindal is undeniably popular with voters.

Vitter, on the other hand, should appear vulnerable. He acknowledged involvement with a Washington prostitution ring and refused to discuss it beyond publicly apologizing to his wife. Later there were allegations by a New Orleans prostitute.

In recent weeks Vitter has taken a higher profile, being one of two senators voting against Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary of State and railing against President Barack Obama’s plan to stimulate the nation’s sagging economy.

Vitter reported to federal election authorities that, as of Dec. 31, he had $2 million ready to spend on his re-election, much of it raised with Jindal’s help.

Chris Whittington, chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said it’s still early and he’s optimistic that interest in challenging Vitter will increase — especially since the national party’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee let it be known a few weeks ago that Vitter would be targeted in 2010, he said.

“In my world that’s a big thing. We’re talking about a lot of resources … a lot,” Whittington said.

But for the time being, Louisiana’s first Republican U.S. senator since Reconstruction is heading into his re-election campaign with no opponents — save the possibility of a 29-year-old Scotlandville Magnet High graduate who calls herself “Stormy Daniels” when starring in pornographic movies.

Daniels’ efforts landed Vitter — and Louisiana — on CNN, MSNBC, late-night television shows, in newspapers and in dozens of Internet blogs.

Vitter always has been quick to criticize publicly the behavior of others. Being enmeshed in a compromising situation, then refusing to take responsibility for his actions has provoked attention that embarrasses women and the state, Blanco said.

While she’s not interested in taking on Vitter, Blanco is looking for a viable candidate to take on a GOP campaigner whose bare-knuckled style she calls “mean.”

“You either have to get a high-profile person who understands the dynamics of raising money,” Blanco said last week. “Or else you get somebody who is independently wealthy and who is willing to invest in themselves. I’m talking to all the people I can think of in one or the other situation.”

Blanco said Jim Bernhard of Baton Rouge, founder and chairman of the Shaw Group Inc., is “giving it real careful thought.” He didn’t return The Advocate’s calls over a two-day period.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville also says Bernhard has been asking around, and is looking hard at the race. The only Democratic member of Louisiana’s delegation to the U.S. House, Melancon said he probably wouldn’t run. “I’m not at this moment inclined,” he said. “But never say never.”

Another possible Democratic candidate, former U.S. Rep. Chris John, who lost to Vitter in 2004, refused comment.

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, said people have urged him to run — but he’s not interested.

Campbell said “plenty of good people are available,” but had trouble coming up with names other than those already mentioned here.

“You have to have somebody who is not scared of him. He’s a real bully,” said Campbell.

He did note that the Democrats have plenty of young talent: Louisiana legislators and local officials who undoubtedly will play important roles in the future.

But is it fair to throw puppies with big paws into the pit with a campaign mastiff like Vitter?

At least for now, it appears that Louisiana will have both Jindal and Vitter through 2016.

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