Analysis: Vitter Runs Partisan Campaign In Governor's Race

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Now that he's running for governor after years in Washington, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is trying to suggest he's not a partisan politician. His own campaign tactics in the governor's race undercut that narrative.

         He's launched a series of partisan-style attack ads against his GOP rivals, and he's repeatedly turned to partisan talking points for Republicans as he seeks to hang onto his front-runner status in the competitive race leading up to the Oct. 24 election.

         Vitter's one of four major candidates in the governor's race, which also includes Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards.

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         In the last few weeks, attention on the governor's race has heightened — and Vitter's 2007 prostitution scandal has surfaced again as a campaign issue. Vitter's partisan advertising response appears to be an attempt to switch topics and stem any damage from the revisiting of his admission of a "serious sin" after phone records linked him to Washington's "D.C. Madam."

         Vitter's mastered the use of divisive campaign tactics over the years. This time, the approach could get Vitter elected governor in the conservative red state, but it could damage the relationships he needs to tackle Louisiana's budget train wreck.

         Budget and tax bills can hit tricky terrain, and some can be blocked entirely, if they can't get a two-thirds vote — and those super-majority votes require support from at least some Democrats.

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         By alienating Democrats or irritating Republican supporters of other candidates with Washington-style partisanship, Vitter can threaten his ability to make the sort of sweeping budget and tax changes needed to dig Louisiana out of its financial mess.

         Vitter's repeatedly inserted himself into New Orleans' local debate over whether to remove several Confederate statues in the city. He's sent letters to Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who supports taking down the statues, referencing the city's crime and telling him to "focus on murders, not monuments." He's also launched a radio ad attacking Landrieu on the topic.

         The state has no control over the city's monuments, but the issue gives Vitter the ability to take a swipe at a well-known Democrat.

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         In another ad, Vitter hits a frequent GOP talking point, alleging widespread abuse in welfare and food stamp programs. He talks of enacting new work requirements before people can get benefits and banning people convicted of violent crimes from being eligible for the aid.

         States have only modest leeway to place limits on the federally funded programs. And enacting such restrictions won't do anything to save Louisiana money since the benefits are paid solely with federal financing. None of the state's deep budget difficulties would be solved with the ideas.

         But the talking points register as popular among conservative Republican voters.

         Vitter's also recently unveiled TV attack ads aimed at undercutting the candidacies of his two GOP competitors.

         One spot describes Dardenne as a liberal, and the other ties Angelle to President Barack Obama, reminding viewers that Angelle was a Democrat for 31 years before switching to the GOP.

         Dardenne said Vitter was using false attacks designed to mislead the public and reviving the same accusations his opponents have used repeatedly over the years to no avail. Angelle said Vitter's attacking because he's struggling to hold on to his front-runner status and wants to change the conversation.

         The senator's campaign says Vitter is attacking his Republican rivals because he's been hit with criticism from the other candidates and outside PACs.

         "We aren't going to let the story be one-sided, which is why we want to make sure voters know about Scott Angelle's and Jay Dardenne's liberal records," campaign spokesman Luke Bolar said in a statement.

         The partisan bomb-throwing tactic shifts focus away from the state's larger problems and the difficult decisions that any governor will have to make to rebalance Louisiana's budget and keep the shortfalls from continuing to appear year after year. None of the major candidates for governor, including Vitter, have offered detailed plans to address those troubles.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte




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