Menu

XRepublic

Unfiltered Political News

Terror fears offer Vitter Louisiana lifeline

<p>BATON ROUGE, La.— A year after Louisiana voters booted their last Democratic statewide officeholder by double digits, the dirtiest political race in America comes down to whether a lurid but decade-old sex scandal is enough to pry Southern conservatives away from the Republican Party, even amid renewed fears of terrorism at home.</p><p>After an in-the-mud, four-week runoff also full of loaded attacks on crime, race and religion, Republican Sen. David Vitter faces a potentially embarrassing rebuke in Saturday’s election by voters in a GOP-dominated state. Democrats ran their campaign based on the theme that Vitter is untrustworthy, implicitly and explicitly raising the fact that Vitter’s name had shown up in a 2007 investigation of a D.C. prostitution ring.</p><p>&quot;This isn’t about forgiveness or redemption,&quot; Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards told POLITICO after a campaign stop in the small town of Crowley last week. &quot;There is a Christian obligation to forgive people when they seek forgiveness. There is no obligation to forget or to vote for people, and his error in judgment was so severe.&quot;</p><p>But Vitter’s fate is not sealed, despite trailing Edwards by double digits in most polls since they both advanced to the runoff in October. Suddenly, in the final week of the election, fears of terrorism surged after the attacks in Paris, giving Vitter the opportunity to shift the conversation onto different ground.</p><br><p>It’s a fittingly unpolished finale after a campaign when Edwards accused Vitter of choosing “prostitutes over patriots” and Vitter accused Edwards of wanting to release “thugs” into our “neighborhoods,&quot; and both hit the other for not doing enough to block Syrian refugees from settling in Louisiana. &quot;John Bel Edwards has pledged to work with Obama to bring Syrian refugees to Louisiana,&quot; said an announcer in one of Vitter’s ads.</p><p>If Republicans hoped to turbo-charge a Vitter comeback on fear of terrorism, though, that comeback started with a more good-natured emotion: forgiveness. After ignoring or deflecting public questions about his prostitution scandal for years, Vitter finally began addressing the issue directly in recent weeks as Edwards’ strength became clear.</p> <p>&quot;I’ve spoken about this directly with the people of Louisiana for some time,&quot; Vitter said at a debate here Monday night when asked about the scandal, which saw his phone number linked to a D.C. prostitute who catered to the rich and powerful. &quot;I’ve apologized to them directly and just as important, I’ve committed to rebuild their trust.&quot;</p><p>Vitter went on to describe telling his children about what he did in the &quot;darkest moment of my life.&quot; He said his failure and redemption were &quot;the most important experience of his life.&quot;</p><p>For such a defining moment, Vitter has been very quiet about it in public until recently. The second-term senator didn’t directly address the issue during his 2010 reelection bid and has avoided questions from Capitol Hill reporters for eight years, fearing they would ask him about the scandal.</p><p>It was two super PACs dedicated to his defeat (as well as some Republican opponents) who first started raising the issue explicitly this fall, and Vitter — once considered an unbeatable front-runner — immediately started tumbling in the polls. Edwards piled on with a brutal TV ad accusing Vitter of missing a vote honoring veterans to &quot;answer a prostitute’s call.&quot; &quot;David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots,&quot; the ad intoned.</p><p>Vitter did change tack, though, after just squeaking into the runoff against Edwards by three points over his Republican antagonists. His campaign released a controversial ad criticizing Edwards on prison reform and accusing the Democrat of wanting &quot;thugs&quot; back on the street, prompting a furious response from Democrats and groups like the NAACP.</p><p>But Vitter also released an ad where he discussed failing his family and said his personal story of redemption taught him how he could bring back the state of Louisiana.</p> <p>It was one of Vitter’s most public asks for forgiveness after trying to handle his scandal privately for years. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a former Louisiana state legislator who has endorsed Vitter and said voters “are willing to forgive,” said he long ago helped put together a group of pastors from around the state who counsel Vitter and try &quot;to keep him on the straight and narrow&quot; in both in his personal life and on policy issues. He said he doesn’t directly discuss the episode with Vitter anymore, but will still check in.</p><p>&quot;The only question I ask him is: ‘How you doing?’&quot; Perkins said. &quot;And he knows what that means.&quot;</p><br><p>During an interview after a campaign stop in the small city of Crowley, Edwards told POLITICO asking for forgiveness isn’t enough.</p><p>&quot;He compromised himself, he did not do his job as congressman, and may have committed a crime in order to engage in these extracurricular activities he was engaged in,&quot; Edwards said. &quot;And that there is more than something that is just between him and his wife.&quot;</p><p>Democrats in the state are nervously optimistic about their chances of taking the governor’s mansion. Polls have typically shown Edwards with leads of about 10 percentage points, but an automated survey released Friday showed the Democrat earning just 49 percent of the vote to Vitter’s 44 percent. That comes just after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which shifted the entire conversation of the race to the issue of whether Syrian refugees should be allowed to settle in Louisiana. Both candidates say no, and both candidates claim the other is not taking a hard enough line.</p><p>For his part, Edwards isn’t accepting blame for the race’s negative tenor. &quot;After months of him spending millions of dollars lying about my record, I decided to tell the truth about him,&quot; Edwards said.</p><p>And references to the scandal are not rare when Edwards is on the stump or in debates. When Vitter notes Edwards has low scores from pro-business groups, Edwards’ standard retort is &quot;the only person I give 100 percent to is my wife.&quot;</p><p>Edwards noted most of the ads released by his campaign have been positive biographical spots, many of them focused on Edwards’ time at West Point, his service in the military, or he and his wife’s decision not to have an abortion. (Two anti-Vitter PACs, one funded by the Democratic Governors Association and another backed by a single Baton Rouge law firm, have aired most of the attacks on Vitter and the prostitution scandal.)</p><p>Vitter’s wife and son, meanwhile, have featured heavily in his campaign ads — at least the ones not featuring ominous music and talk of threats to the state, the prevailing soundtrack of the campaign.</p><br>

Powered by WPeMatico