The Vitter Defeat in Louisiana

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Although not a total surprise, the loss of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) 84% to Democrat John Bel Edwards in the gubernatorial race needs to be taken in context.  Losing this seat simply creates a net zero at the Governor’s office level since the GOP picked up a seat in Kentucky earlier in November.  In an earlier article, I predicted that Vitter would prevail.  Obviously he did not.  In fact, in the end it was not even a close race.

So what does it mean?  Does it portend anything for 2016?  As far as Louisiana gubernatorial results the year before a presidential election, in only one instance since 1972 did a Democratic presidential candidate win- Bill Clinton in 1992 after the 1991 election.  In all other instances, a Republican won the White House when Louisiana voters opted for a Democratic Governor.  In other words, it portends very little.

Because Louisiana will have a Democratic governor come 2016 does not mean that the fine folks of Louisiana have had some kind of Democratic Party epiphany.  Instead, the results are intrinsic to the state and, more importantly, intrinsic to the Republican candidate- Vitter himself.  Soon after conceding the race to Edwards, Vitter announced that he will serve out the remainder of his Senate term, but will not run for reelection in 2016.  He, like many others, realizes that he is damaged political goods.

Thus, it is good that he made the decision rather than exposing himself to the same attacks and baggage he carried into the gubernatorial election in a Senate election.  Surely, any sane potential Democratic candidate would steal a page from the Edwards playbook and seriously jeopardize a relatively safe GOP seat in the Senate.

The baggage, to recap, that he carried into the race was some ethical lapses on his part.  Namely, it was his association with the prostitution scandal in 2007.  In his first run for Senate, there were also accusations of Vitter’s involvement with prostitutes.  Apparently he thought this was all water under the bridge and would have no bearing on his campaign.  After all, despite these accusations (backed by some string evidence), Vitter won reelection to the Senate in 2010 rather easily.

The problem is not the Republican brand in Louisiana.  They have a decidedly Republican legislature, five of their six Congressmen and both US Senators and their Lt. Governor (elected this year) as well as most statewide elected officials are Republican.  The problem was this particular Republican.  Rest assured, had Jay Dardenne or Scott Angelle come in first or second and made the runoff (both are Republican) they would have won on November 21st.

Despite the ethical baggage- and patronizing prostitutes has to rank up there- Vitter is a rather reliable conservative vote in the Senate.  As we look towards 2016 and the successor to Vitter in the Senate, the GOP would be well-advised not to read too much into this outcome.  There should be no hand-wringing that perhaps a less conservative choice should run on the Republican side.  As for the Democrats, let them crow about their victory, but surely they realize that a Democratic governor of Louisiana would be hard-pressed to pass anything with even a whiff of a liberal agenda.

For the 2016 Senatorial campaign, the choice got somewhat easier.  Successors will not be pandering to Vitter the Governor for an appointment.  They will have to run on their own merits in a primary.  The Republican bench is deep in Louisiana with at least two sitting Congressmen, a former general and a former Lt. Governor now all considering a run.  The Democrats have precious little to offer in the way of potential candidates for a statewide office like United States Senator.

To quote a song, “In the end, it doesn’t really matter….”

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