[StBernard] Doing a "Vitter"

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Aug 3 20:09:25 EDT 2009

CQ: Doing a 'Vitter' makes senator a survivorman
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., overcame 'D.C. Madam' scandal with four-part plan
By Bill Pascoe, CQ Guest Columnist

CQ Politics
updated 2:56 p.m. CT, Mon., Aug 3, 2009
WASHINGTON - Some years ago, a lawyer whose client's story was so explosive
that everybody in the media wanted to get a piece of him decided to do five
Sunday morning talk shows, all on the same day.

Thus was born Doing a "Full Ginsburg."

A few years later, in a Senate race in New Jersey, a candidate quit the race
just 35 days before the election - long after the statutory deadline - and
got the state's Supreme Court to let him get away with it.

Thus was born Pulling a "Torricelli."

And now, in the wake of revelations by Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark
Sanford that each had engaged in extramarital affairs, they are being
advised to Do a "Vitter."

Two summers ago, first-term Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was a third of the way
into his first term, and doing well by all accounts.

But then, facing exposure, he hastily arranged a press conference and
revealed that his name and phone number were in the address book of "D.C.
Madam" Debra Jean Palfrey.

Vitter took full responsibility and apologized for what he called "serious
sin." There were no weasel words used, and he spoke in the active voice.

And then he refused to answer questions on the matter.

That press conference, it is clear in hindsight, was not the end of his game
plan. It was just the beginning.

Like most of what Vitter has done in his public life, that plan and its
execution have been methodical and logical and comprehensive.

The four elements
The plan consists of four main elements: First, having addressed the media
on the subject of the D.C. Madam to Vitter's own satisfaction, he shut up
about it; second, he redoubled his efforts to deliver tangible results for
his base voters, to remind them of why they sent him to Washington in the
first place; third, he used his intra-party muscle to head off a
debilitating primary challenge; and fourth, he determined to raise so much
money so early that it would act as a major deterrent to a serious general
election threat.

And it has worked.

It has worked so well that in CQ Politics' recent Senate Race Ratings for
2010, Vitter's race is rated as "Leans Republican" - the same rating given
to South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's race, and to the open seat race in
Florida, where the National Republican Senatorial Committee is high on
popular incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist as its likely nominee.

That Vitter should be rated just as likely to win as DeMint and Florida
Republicans, despite having to confess "serious sin" publicly in a state
where 58 percent of the population reports weekly church attendance - the
highest rate of church attendance in the nation - is a testament to Vitter's
strategy and execution.

Vitter's game plan began with a realistic assessment of what the political
environment would look like in 2010.

By the summer of 2007, it was clear that population loss after the
devastation of Hurricane Katrina had dramatically changed the partisan
dynamics of the statewide playing field. In short, an awful lot of people
had left the state, and hadn't come back. And the overwhelming majority of
those who hadn't come back, it turns out, tended to pull the Democratic
lever on Election Day.

For instance, Orleans Parish - whose boundaries are coterminous with the
boundaries of the City of New Orleans - is the largest parish in the state,
in terms of registered voters. It is also, by far, the most
Democratic-voting parish in the state. It regularly returns 75-25 percent
Democrat pluralities.

In his 2004 campaign for the Senate, for instance, Vitter lost Orleans
Parish by roughly 144,500 votes, getting just 22 percent of the vote there.

In order to win statewide in Louisiana, Democrats simply must roll up huge
margins there, to offset Republican pluralities in other parishes. In this
sense, Orleans Parish is to Louisiana as Cook County is to Illinois, or as
Hudson County is to New Jersey.

But after Katrina, Orleans Parish is but a shell of its former self,
politically speaking.

In 2004, before Katrina, turnout in Orleans Parish was 196,086 votes; in
2008 - a year in which, given Barack Obama's spot on the top of the Democrat
ticket, turnout reasonably could be expected to be higher than normal -
turnout in Orleans Parish was just 149,448 votes.

In other words, despite the turnout-maximizing presence of Obama at the top
of the ticket, Orleans Parish lost 46,638 votes - almost one in four -
between 2004 and 2008.

Losing 47,000 votes out of Orleans Parish makes life easier for a Republican
running statewide in Louisiana.

For example, if you take the Vitter 2004 Orleans Parish vote percentage, and
apply it to the 2008 Orleans Parish number, the calculation yields a
stunning number: Vitter's loss in Orleans Parish would have been cut from
roughly 144,500 votes to just 117,000 votes.

That's 27,500 fewer votes that have to be made up elsewhere.

And that was in a presidential election year, where, for the first time
ever, Democrats nominated a black candidate for President.

In 2010, the turnout in Orleans Parish is going to be much, much lower than
it was in 2008, which means Vitter's margin of defeat in this one
ultra-Democratic parish is likely going to be even smaller than 27,500

Big pluralities in context
To give you an idea of just how important big pluralities coming out of
Orleans Parish are to Democrats running statewide in Louisiana, let me put
that in context:

Mary Landrieu beat Suzie Haik Terrell in their 2002 runoff by roughly 42,000
votes statewide - fueled by a 78,900-vote margin in Orleans Parish.

Kathleen Blanco defeated Bobby Jindal in their 2003 runoff by roughly 55,000
votes statewide - fueled by a 49,741-vote margin in Orleans Parish.

Do the math. Without their massive Democratic victory margins in Orleans
Parish, Landrieu would have lost by almost 40,000 votes, and Blanco would
have barely squeaked in.

Then, too, there's this: Louisiana is, operationally speaking, one of the
most conservative Republican states in the nation.

In 2008, its voters gave the state to John McCain over Barack Obama by a
365,000-vote, 59-40 percent drubbing. Six of its seven congressional
districts are currently represented by a Republican, and the one Democrat
who holds a seat - Rep. Charlie Melancon - was unopposed for reelection in
2008. In 2010, the red wave in Louisiana is going to be even stronger.

After determining the likely 2010 political environment, Vitter set about
ensuring his conservative Republican base would have no reason to look

It worked.

In this March 2009 DailyKos/Research 2000 poll, for example, Vitter showed a
strong 69 percent favorable rating among Louisiana Republicans.

Why is that important? Because January through June of the off year is the
heavy recruiting season for the national party committees. By showing base
strength at that time, Vitter was effectively sending a message to any
Louisiana Republicans with thoughts in their head: Don't bother.

Former Congressman John Cooksey, 2002 Louisiana GOP Senate nominee Terrell,
and former state Rep. Tony Perkins each saw their names thrown into the
public mix and each responded within 48 hours with a nicely worded, "Me? But
of course not! I think David Vitter is the neatest thing since sliced bread!
Geaux Vitter!" sort of statement.

In each case, it happened so easily, and so quickly, that one could be
forgiven for wondering if Vitter was channeling Don Vito Corleone. Or maybe

Before we go any further, it's time for an important disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: When I write about the politicians in my past, CQ Politics says
I have to turn the cards face up. I worked for Vitter in his 2004 run for
the U.S. Senate, and that's what allows me to make this next set of personal
comments, because, let's face it, any good analyst could have put together
the data points above.

Now, about the Vitter work ethic.

Vitter's approach to politics is the same as Gary Player's approach to golf:
"Golf is a game of luck," Player once said. "And the harder I work, the
luckier I get."

The only guy I've ever known who worked harder than David Vitter is this
guy, and he made an entire career out of being billed as "The Hardest
Working Man in Show Business."

Methodical with time, money
Vitter is the kind of candidate finance directors dream of when they take
their required two-hour daily sleep - he measures his manhood by the size of
his campaign war chest. He's the kind of guy who takes pages and pages of
call sheets with him when he schedules time to make fundraising calls, and
if finishes those sheets with 20 minutes to spare in his allotted call time,
he doesn't take off for an early reward at Starbucks, he calls back to the
office and asks for another couple of call sheets.

Not surprisingly, he raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of 2009, and
is now sitting on $3.2 million cash on hand - an imposing figure for
Louisiana 16 months before the election. To put that in context, at this
point in the cycle of his 2004 run for the Senate, Vitter was only showing
$1.2 million cash on hand.

Democrats had been hoping to convince Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard to
challenge Vitter.

But Bernhard's 284,754 shares (for those of you scoring at home) of Shaw
Group stock aren't worth what they were a year ago - at $29.45/share,
they're worth a little more than $8 million, about half what they were last
July - and Bernhard shouldn't be expected to make the race. If that's the
case, Democrats would be left with a second-tier challenger, 3rd District
Rep. Charlie Melancon.

Melancon's motive to run would be simple: Fear that his seat may evaporate
underneath him.

Louisiana insiders are already talking about the 2011 redistricting map, and
what will happen to Melancon's 3rd District. The likelihood is great that,
because Louisiana will most likely lose a seat (due to the post-Katrina
population loss discussed above), GOP map-drawers in Baton Rouge will push
hard to slice and dice Melancon's district, and leave whomever holds it
after the 2010 election without a chair when the music stops.

For Melancon, the 2010 election is a case of "move up, or move out."

Melancon raised almost $400,000 in the second quarter of 2009, roughly a
third of what Vitter did in the same quarter, leaving him roughly $2 million
behind Vitter.

That gap is larger than it sounds.

Vitter is already a known quantity statewide, while Melancon is not yet
known by almost half the state's voters. Melancon's position in the 3rd
District means that viewers in the New Orleans market have seen him on TV
and in their newspapers, but most of the rest of the state hasn't. He'll
have to spend millions of dollars just to get his statewide name
identification numbers to Vitter's level - millions of dollars Vitter
doesn't have to spend.

Plus, a sitting senator with a good shot at reelection generally can
outraise a sitting congressman with an uphill climb ahead of him. So the $2
million gap Melancon now faces would only grow.

Put that all together, and it may not matter that Vitter sinned in a state
that's right smack dab in the middle of the Rosary Belt.

Sixteen months from now, "Doing a Vitter" may be the model for political
leaders who want to earn a new term in office after a self-inflicted wound.

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