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PRUDEN: The scandal card fails in Louisiana

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

NEW ORLEANS | Voters in Louisiana are shockproof, with years of experience weighing the demerits — and even the occasional merits — of their native politicians. They often find the politicians wanting — and want more anyway. The motto of Mardi Gras — "Laissez les bon temps roulez," or "Let the good times roll" — works year-round.

David Vitter, the incumbent Republican U.S. senator, would have been left for dead months ago in a white-bread state like Iowa or Indiana or maybe even neighboring Mississippi or Arkansas, where voters, like the famous horse of Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, sup on cornbread and beans. But he's entering the homestretch of a race for re-election with a polling lead consistently in double digits.

Mr. Vitter is crucial to Republican hopes of winning control of the Senate, which remains a risky bet even retaining the Louisiana seat. But it's a shot not as long as in midsummer. Rasmussen, the most reliable of the pollsters, now handicaps that result as possible though not necessarily probable. If the elections were held today, Democrats likely would wind up with a minimum of 49 seats, the Republicans with 47, and the four other seats that would determine control of the Senate are rated as tossups.

No Republican-held seat is thought to be ripe for Democratic plucking, but Mr. Vitter was once regarded as a likely Democratic pluckee. He appears to be surviving a near-death experience. Two years ago, his name appeared in the little black book of a call-girl madam in the nation's capital. Mr. Vitter, a family man, confessed sin and promised to be better. He became the butt of ribald jokes here in Louisiana, joining colorful former Gov. Edwin Edwards as a pol better to laugh at, not to cry over. Mr. Edwards is presently a guest of Uncle Sam, sent to prison for various fraud convictions and best known as the author of the boast that the law would never run him in "unless they catch me in bed with a live boy or a dead girl." He once survived a runoff campaign against a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan with the slogan, emblazoned on bumper stickers, "Vote for the Crook, not the Wizard."

Because neither fraud nor transgressions of the flesh (a thriving industry in certain local precincts) ranks with murder or treason, Mr. Vitter survived scandal, too. His opponent on Nov. 2, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, is not likely to survive his "scandal," a vague identification with President Obama. Voters in Louisiana apparently have decided it's OK to be in bed with a live hooker but not with this president.

With the morality issue dispatched deep into the shadows, the senator and Mr. Melancon are arguing mostly about prospective tax increases and whether Mr. Melancon is a reliable ally of the president. Politicking here, where a Huey Long campaign was "a circus hitched to a tornado," has descended into television ad wars and — this no doubt has the Kingfish in a furious graveyard spin — campaigning by Twittering. No circus, just the clowns.

One Vitter commercial depicts Obama buttons and banners as backdrop for a photograph of Mr. Melancon shaking hands with Mr. Obama as a narrator says Mr. Melancon "just may be Barack Obama's biggest fan." Another Vitter TV commercial scorches the congressman for traveling to Canada for a fundraiser organized by the American Trial Lawyers Association. "Mr. Melancon might survive being photographed with the president, unlikely prospect though it is," says one Democratic pol in New Orleans, "but hanging out with trial lawyers? That's really pushing it."

Democrats sneer that Mr. Vitter is the out-of-touch candidate. When the senator told a Chamber of Commerce luncheon the other day in Crowley, in Cajun southwestern Louisiana, that "virtually everybody in this audience" would be considered wealthy in Washington and would see their taxes go up if Democrats keep their majorities in Congress, Mr. Melancon's surrogates retorted that only a little more than 1 percent of Louisiana taxpayers would pay more taxes if Mr. Obama and the Democrats allow the George W. Bush tax cuts to expire. "I don't know what planet David Vitter is living on," said a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, "but it's not Louisiana."

But this year is the exception to the rule that all politics is local. Mr. Melancon is living proof that you can be against abortion, against the oil-drilling moratorium in the Gulf, against the global-warming scam and like your guns, too, but that's not enough. Barack Obama is the poison for which there is no antidote.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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