Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meet the Candidate

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 4:19 PM

MEET THE CANDIDATE

With a profile that’s been more private than public lately, Congressman Charlie Melancon is campaigning to be your next U.S. senator

By JEREMY ALFORD

Charlie Melancon may be the first major political candidate from Louisiana to announce a bid for office from his own dining room table. That all of his supporters, the state’s media and other political onlookers were able to fit into his charming Napoleonville home was even more remarkable. But that, as they say, is the magic of the Internet.

Last week, Melancon told the world he would challenge U.S. Sen. David Vitter by email. The message, though, also provided a link to a YouTube video posted on his campaign’s site.

Click. (Cue piano) “Hello. My name is Charlie Melancon. I'm a businessman, who's been an ambassador for our state's sugar industry and I've owned and run several successful businesses. I'm a proud family man, the father of two great children, and Peachy and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary just last week.”

Peachy didn’t enter the frame with a tray of fried catfish or Natchitoches meat pies, but it would have been a nice touch. The video, however, does play into the image of detached U.S. congressman who’s ducking town hall meetings, a portrayal that’s been floated by Melancon’s conservative opposition and anyone else generally paying attention.

In comparison, Sen. David Vitter, the Republican from Metairie that Melancon will face on the fall 2010 ballot, is in the trenches and holding town hall meetings – and, more importantly, answering, although most times indirectly, questions about his connection to a Beltway-based prostitution ring that was run by a madam who killed herself last year....

Congress is presently in its most volatile recess in recent history, what with a contentious health care debate brewing and the universe reportedly on the cusp of financial ruin. Melancon has held town hall meetings in the past regularly, but has only offered up a telephone town hall meetings to voters this summer, by where they have to dial in to participate.

Melancon has every right to be weary of town hall meetings, at least politically. Earlier this year, The Daily Iberian reported on a contentious meeting where Melancon took considerable heat from his constituents: “U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon ‘took a beating’ from a crowd of fiery residents Thursday night as he defended his recent voting record on several bills in Congress including the economic stimulus package, corporate bailouts and the federal budget.”

Here’s another account, just last week, from The Houma Courier: “More than 200 people protested proposals for national health-care reform [in front of Melancon’s district office and] there were chants of ‘We want Charlie,’ ‘Chicken Charlie’ and ‘Where is Charlie?’” Robin Winchell, Melancon’s D.C. spokesperson, says the congressman was never informed of or invited to the event.

Winchell also issued a prepared statement from Melancon, which in part explained, “This August, I have been driving around south Louisiana, attending dozens of public events and meeting people where they are – at festivals, Rotary Club meetings, schools, and community centers – and listening to what they have to say.” Information obtained from Melancon’s scheduler confirmed such events and several more, practically on a daily basis the entire recess.

Nonetheless, Melancon’s opponents are already beating the drum and calling him an absent candidate, charges that even Gov. Bobby Jindal couldn’t duck during his quiet revolution of 2007 – and that was at the peak of Jindal's popularity. If the town hall meetings being held, and not held, right now are having any impact at all, they’re boosting Vitter’s image and energizing his base.

As such, it’s difficult not to see how a different strategy would be more beneficial to Melancon. Louisiana’s electorate, not to mention the state’s traditional Democratic base, needed to see Melancon announce in public, on a sunny August day with as many bodies as possible. He’s no longer an incumbent, and shouldn’t act like one.

Vitter has been drawing blood at his own town hall meetings for weeks and the Web announcement by Melancon just sounds like more silence, which can be deadly in a statewide race. Just ask refer back to Jindal once more; he may be into his second term already if he had hit back harder against volleys from former Gov. Kathleen Blanco during the 2003 election.

If it’s a strategy at all, it’s only short term. Sources close to both campaigns suggest the mud could start flying as early as September, when lawmakers reconvene work in Washington. To be certain, Vitter has had his own public meeting problems. Last week, he was asked not to address a Tea Party event in Metairie he had partly billed as his own.

But that’s probably small potatoes compared to what Democrats have in store for Vitter. The subtext in Melancon’s announcement speech further suggested that he’ll be willing to hit Vitter where it hurts. After all, a “family man,” as Melancon calls himself in the video press release, would never do the things Vitter has.

It’s a message that you’re going to hear a lot more of. “Louisiana needs a different approach,” Melancon says in the video. “More bi-partisan. More disciplined. More honest and with a whole lot more common sense.”

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