What are we to make of the curious case of David Vitter?
Here’s a Louisiana senator who, until being outed for using an escort service, was viewed by die-hard Republicans and Christian conservatives with a reverence now reserved only for Gov. Bobby Jindal. Vitter, who never met a family value he couldn’t support, lost the wunderkind crown due to his failure to honor the most basic of family values: Thou shall not commit adultery.
Talk of Vitter winding up on a presidential ticket is forever a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean the junior senator from Metairie has any intention of quietly walking away from what’s left of his political career.
When news first broke of his dalliance with Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the D.C. Madam, Vitter’s response was to issue a vague statement acknowledging unspecified sins and to lay low. Now, however, Vitter, convinced his political life has a pulse, is changing tactics.
Betting Louisianans are not only a hearty, but also a forgiving bunch, Vitter has seized on 1) a collapsing national economy and 2) radically shifting political winds as an opening to rebrand and rehabilitate himself before facing voters in the fall of 2010.
His message to win back support from the far right is simply this: The nation is under assault by liberals, Louisiana is a Republican Alamo and though I sinned I am still one of you.
Always a liberal sender of emails touting his self-proclaimed accomplishments, Vitter has ramped up the send button—issuing statements and positions on school prayer, charter schools, government bailouts, illegal immigration and everything and anything else of general interest to his hard-core Republican base.
He conducted a one-person crusade, and cast the lone no committee vote, against the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, declaring her husband’s business activities posed a conflict-of-interest risk.
In short, Vitter seems willing to say or do anything to seek forgiveness and support from the same voters that once viewed him as an emerging conservative star.
As important in the practical world of political campaigns, Vitter is scrambling around the state, feverishly trying to secure financial support. It’s a move designed to not only boost his war chest, but to make it difficult for any potential Republican challengers to mount a serious threat.
What has to be troubling to Vitter is that many of his once deep-pocketed supporters aren’t yet willing to jump back into bed with him, opting to see if Jay Dardenne or another Republican joins the GOP field.
Even if Vitter’s strategy works and he secures an easy Republican nomination, it could play into the hands of Democrats, who smell sin in the water and would love nothing more than a head-up race against the man who once dreamed of becoming president.
The problem for Democrats at the moment is finding a candidate with statewide appeal. There’s talk of Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard entering the race, but I’m hoping New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin makes a run.
How great—and entertaining—would it be to see a Vitter-Nagin showdown? Who do you support, the hypocritical sinner or the chocolate-covered nut?