I wrote a few weeks ago that Louisiana, a solidly red state, was primed for Democratic victories thanks in part to Bobby Jindal’s tragic tenure. While the initial results of this weekend’s election were mixed, it appears the political winds are indeed shifting. This is especially true of the gubernatorial race, which pitted frontrunner David Vitter against two other Republicans as well as the Democratic candidate, John Bel Edwards.
Louisiana employs a peculiar election system known as a jungle primary, which means all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, compete on a single ballot. If no one gets a majority, the top two candidates compete in a runoff election. On Saturday, Edwards carried 40 percent of the vote to Vitter’s 23 percent (almost a complete reversal of the polling data from a year ago). This means the Edwards will face Vitter in a runoff next month. And Edwards, depending on whom you ask, is now the favorite.
For months, David Vitter was the prohibitive frontrunner. He has name recognition, political clout, a plethora of cash, and a state whose demographics increasingly favor conservative Republicans. But this is a unique political climate. Jindal, one of the worst governors in the history of the state, has made toxic everything he touched, including the Republican brand. Running as a Republican gubernatorial candidate after Jindal was always going to be tricky. In addition to that, Vitter, as James Carvilletold Salon recently, is “one of the most flawed candidates in American politics.”
Calling Vitter “flawed” borders on charitable, in my view. The man’s political resume is shot through with sin. There’s the famous D.C. Madam Scandal of 2007, which exposed Vitter’s extramarital peccadillos with sex workers (an unfortunate finding for a family values conservative). Miraculously, Vitter managed to recover from this and was poised to win the governorship. But things have spiraled out of control for Vitter in the last month so, with one fiasco after another, and now his entire campaign has cratered.
First there was a story published by Jason Berry, an investigative reporter who writes for the blog, American Zombie. Berry interviewed Wendy Ellis, a former prostitute in New Orleans, who claims to have serviced Vitter between 1998 and 2000. She also alleges that Vitter requested that she have an abortion after he impregnated her, a claim Vitter vehemently denies. Berry’s story has since unraveled, but there’s enough smoke to sway voters, particularly those who are familiar with Vitter’s philandering past.
Vitter’s follies continued last week when a private investigator his campaign hired, a man named Robert Frenzel, was caught clandestinely recording a conversation between a local sheriff, a state senator, and a lawyer with ties to the Democratic Party. The PI was promptly arrested, after which Vitter released a vacuous statement about his intent to spy on the lawyer, not the sheriff. However you spin it, writes Lamar White, a prominent Louisiana blogger, it seems “David Vitter hired and paid someone $130,000 to spy on John Cummings, a private citizen, because David Vitter is absolutely terrified about what John Cummings knows.” No one knows for sure what Cummings knows, but it’s not hard to imagine what it’s about (hint: prostitutes).