By Robert Mann
As he no doubt celebrates Sen. David Vitter’s political struggles, Gov. Bobby Jindal probably has mixed feelings. Sure, he and his staff despise Vitter. There’s been no love lost between the two men and their aides for the past eight years.
Jindal and Vitter have never been close. Jindal declined to endorse Vitter in 2010 in the aftermath of his 2007 prostitution scandal. “Voters can make up their own mind,” he said at the time. Throughout his second term, Vitter has been a constant critic of Jindal, as he noted in Monday night’s debate on Louisiana Public Broadcasting. “I’ve publicly fought and butted heads with Bobby Jindal on many important issues,” Vitter said.
Vitter has certainly done nothing to help Jindal as he campaigns for president, and Jindal remains conspicuously absent from Vitter’s campaign for governor. It’s clear that Jindal won’t endorse Vitter, even if Vitter wanted his endorsement (which he doesn’t).
The reasons why Jindal won’t help Vitter in the governor’s race are as complicated as the two men’s stormy relationship. It’s not that Jindal doesn’t want Vitter to lose. A large part of Jindal would surely love nothing more than to see the state’s senior U.S. senator go down to a crushing defeat on Nov. 21. If Vitter loses the governor’s race to Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, Jindal knows that Vitter’s political career may be over.
Vitter might run for re-election to the Senate in 2016, but Republican leaders in Louisiana and Washington might also urge him to step aside, lest a politically crippled Vitter hand the seat to a Democratic challenger. The only person happier than Louisiana’s Democrats at that outcome would be Bobby Jindal.
If Vitter forfeits the governor’s race – a race that everyone (this writer included) believed was his to lose just a few weeks ago – one reason for the loss will be the damage to the Louisiana Republican brand inflicted by eight years of Bobby Jindal. There is currently no elected official in Louisiana more unpopular than Jindal. A UNO poll released on Thursday put Jindal’s statewide disapproval rating at a stunning 70 percent. Earlier polls that have shown him less popular than President Obama or losing to Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical matchup in Louisiana.
If Vitter is damaged goods, Jindal is toxic waste. And to some extent, Jindal is poisoning Vitter’s campaign for governor. Most voters don’t know how much the two men despise one another. Moreover, even if they knew, it might not matter much. Vitter’s position on most issues is the same as Jindal’s.
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