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Vitter Rivals [Web Exclusive] 

David Vitter may be a weakened Senatorial candidate — but can the Democrats field a challenger who can take him down?

Update: Since this story was published last week, former Congressman John Cooksey has stomped out Internet reports citing he would challenge U.S. Sen. David Vitter. For more, http://www.ouachitacitizen.com/news.php?id=3752.

State and national Democrats have yet to coalesce behind a candidate to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2010, but it's doubtful they could do anything to make the race more entertaining than it is already. Flacks at the Louisiana Democratic Party and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee predict a strong challenger will emerge, but when? Who?

  Vitter, a Metairie native, is viewed as vulnerable for one very well-known reason: his ultra-conservative votes in the Senate. OK, just kidding. It's the prostitution thing, which already is beginning to feel tiresome, but it is what it is. To capitalize on the scandal, some Democratic operatives have recruited Baton Rouge native and pornstar Stormy Daniels to flirt with the race. But she probably won't qualify and certainly won't win — unless she defines victory as screwing Vitter, politically speaking, by pointing out his contradictory views and actions on the subject of family values.

  Last week, however, another possible candidate emerged, a potentially devastating one for Vitter. He is Tony Perkins, a former GOP state representative and current director of the D.C.-based Family Research Council. Just a few years ago, Perkins and Vitter were two peas in a pod shilling for the Religious Right. These days, Perkins could kick the soapbox out from under Vitter and call his scruples into question. Put him on the ballot with Daniels and Vitter and you've got a Louisiana morality play, at least on the GOP side of the ledger.

  As for a blast from the past, former GOP Congressman John Cooksey is also beginning to put money together for a challenge, according to Internet reports.

  Which brings us to the Democrats. Congressman Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville has become party royalty. Some wanted him to challenge superstar Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2007. Last year, as he was being encouraged to take on Vitter, he told The Gambit that he was eyeing the race. Now, as the only Louisiana Democrat in the House, his future in the lower chamber looks better than ever — and he says a race against Vitter is practically out of the question. "Never say never," Melancon says, "but I'm not contemplating a run at this time."

  Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, is another party favorite, but most consultants agree that Louisiana will only send one Landrieu to the Hill at a time. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco has hinted at running, but she says she's only helping with recruitment efforts.

  More likely is a bid by former Acadiana Congressman Chris John, who lost to Vitter in 2004 and now serves as chief of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. While John is well positioned to reenter politics, he's staying mum. "I'm sorry — at this time I have no comment," John wrote in an email last week while on vacation.

  John has the Blue Dog credentials that conservatives like, along with ready access to deep pockets in the energy sector, and he is still young enough to campaign hard. John also could make the Lafayette region competitive again; it has long landed in the GOP column. Having fellow Cajun Blanco in his corner would help, but John's biggest asset could be the fire in his belly. Friends say he would love a rematch against Vitter.   

  Elsewhere among Democrats, there's Jim Bernhard, CEO of Shaw Group and short-lived head of the Louisiana Democratic Party in 2005. Bernhard didn't return a call for an interview, but he's been shaking the bushes for months. Party sources say his personal wealth has scared off several potential candidates, but until he goes on the record, his potential candidacy is best described as "maybe."

  That takes us back to the only declared candidate: Vitter. He's under fire from a former friend, a porn star and a handful of maybes. Some Republicans are encouraging Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, a moderate, to challenge Vitter in the GOP primary, but so far Dardenne remains mum.

  It all adds up to a race that has many moving pieces, but very little certainty for now. As the clock ticks down to 2010, we'll see if voters get to choose between Vitter and someone not linked to a prostitution ring — or if Vitter effectively gets a pass on his "very serious sin."

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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