Running for public office is a wild roller-coaster ride. One week you're up, the next you're down. For U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Republican candidate for governor, last week saw him in both positions.
First, the good news: The latest statewide survey by Baton Rouge-based Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) showed Vitter comfortably leading the pack with more than 38 percent of the vote. Vitter has led every independent poll and has raised more money than all his opponents combined, giving him an aura of invincibility.
Equally good news for Vitter in the SMOR poll: Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards' strong showing in second place, at 24 percent. Vitter's best shot at winning is having a Democratic runoff foe. That would allow him to use his favorite tactic: hanging President Barack Obama around his opponent. It has worked well so far.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, both Republicans, trailed with 16 percent and 5 percent, respectively. However, if either were to face Vitter in an all-GOP runoff, the senator's chances of victory would tank.
Which leads us to the bad news of the week: As long expected, a Super PAC with the stated goal of taking down Vitter has surfaced. Gumbo PAC (www.gumbopac.com) debuted an online video attacking Vitter's record in Washington — his sponsorship of a bill to limit BP's exposure after the Macondo blowout, his cozy relationships with D.C. lobbyists (including "convicted criminal Jack Abramoff") and Wall Street banks, and above all, his involvement in a Beltway prostitution scandal.
Vitter's name showed up several times in the phone records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam who was convicted of running a prostitution ring, and he was forced to admit a "serious sin." He denied reports at the time that he also cavorted with prostitutes in New Orleans, but the Gumbo PAC video resurrects an interview with one local woman who allegedly had "twice-a-week trysts, sometimes three times a week ... at $300 a pop for four months" with Vitter.
The video also shows a clearly uncomfortable Vitter dodging reporters' questions about the scandal — including questions about whether he broke the law as a regular patron of prostitutes.
If Vitter thought he could run for governor without having to face that scandal again — and those same questions — he clearly was wrong. He was able to dodge them in the immediate aftermath of the scandal (by hiding) and again in his 2010 Senate re-election campaign, when he deflected voters' attention by running an anti-Obama campaign. That was easy when his main opponent was a Democrat, but this time he also faces two major GOP rivals. It won't be so easy to blame everything on Obama this go-round.
Or will it?
Vitter campaign spokesman Luke Bolar told The Advocate that the Gumbo PAC campaign is "more politics as usual from liberal Obama Democrats and their allies."
It will be interesting to see if that old deflection works again. At some point, Vitter will have to answer for his "serious sin." After all, it wasn't Barack Obama who was dialing up hookers from Capitol Hill — while preaching "family values" back home.
Meanwhile, the Gumbo PAC video suggests there is much more to come. It concludes, "Just imagine the things you haven't heard about ... yet."