- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sen. David Vitter on Tuesday ended months of speculation and entered the 2015 race for governor of Louisiana, saying the office would give him a more powerful post from which to protect taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Vitter, a Republican in his second term in the Senate, sent an email to supporters Tuesday announcing his intentions to try and keep the governor’s mansion in Republican hands when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term-limited tenure ends.

“I believe that as our next governor, I can have a bigger impact addressing the unique challenges and opportunities we face in Louisiana,” he wrote.

Mr. Vitter, who survived a 2007 prostitution scandal and was re-elected in 2010, has a strong approval rating among Louisiana voters. Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, have both said they will run for governor. State GOP Treasurer John Kennedy also has said he is considering entering the race.

His Senate term doesn’t end until after the 2016 elections, meaning that if he won the governor’s seat he would create a vacancy a year early — and that would set off a scramble.

“We’ll lose one good senator and hopefully pick up a new good senator,” said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express. “I think Louisiana is a pretty conservative state, it’s certainly been trending more and more Republican in the last few cycles. I’m confident a good, strong, tea party-type Republican would be elected to replace Vitter.”

In Washington, Mr. Vitter has focused recently on poking holes in President Obama’s health care law — and particularly on trying to force his colleagues to report on which of their staff members they exempted from having to join the health exchanges.

Mr. Vitter said his priorities if elected governor would be to improve education, attract more businesses to Louisiana and reform taxes. He also emphasized the need to fight political corruption and demand more government accountability.

“That’s a battle I’ve long waged. The difference is I’ll have so many more tools as governor to do things right and protect taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Vitter wrote in the email.

As for the Senate seat Mr. Vitter may leave open, Mr. Russo said there are several promising options for conservatives, including Republican members of the state’s House delegation as well as Mr. Jindal, who is also considered a contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

The scandal from seven years ago is unlikely to be at the top of voter’s minds, said Lara Brown, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University who wrote her dissertation on congressional scandals and electoral consequences.

“I’m sure it will play some role, especially in some voters’ minds. This is Louisiana, the seat of the Bible belt, it is a conservative state,” she said. “That being said, Louisiana has a long history of elected officials being involved in scandals, especially of this kind and it has been a long time. As a result Sen. Vitter has been able to rehabilitate his image.”

Where it could make a difference is in the primary, which happens on Election Day in Louisiana. GOP challengers could use his past digressions to try to dislodge him as a front-runner, she said.

This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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