By Robert Mann
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, down in the polls in his race for Louisiana governor, is struggling to explain away his 2007 prostitution scandal. A race that was once his to lose is one he’s losing badly after his Democratic opponent, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, surprised everyone by turning the race into a referendum on Vitter’s questionable character.
And a race about character is one Vitter cannot win. Worse for Vitter, he is running out of time to change the campaign’s trajectory. The election is Saturday, Nov. 21.
First, Vitter tried in a series of spots to tie Edwards to President Obama. That failed. Next, he cut a spot in which he apologized – sort of – for appearing on the phone logs of the so-called “D.C. Madam.” That didn’t move his poll numbers.
So, Vitter went to north Louisiana to record a spot with Willie Robertson, the star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.” Robertson’s willingness to appear with Vitter and forgive him made some news. It did not, however, make Vitter any more acceptable to the state’s voters. Even dragooning Vitter’s teenage son, Jack, into making a spot, in which he vouched for his dad’s decency, failed.
Despite everything Vitter has tried, the polls won’t budge. Edwards has consistently remained in the low to mid 50s in every independent statewide survey for the past two weeks. Vitter is stuck in the mid to high 30s.
That’s left Vitter with only one option before Saturday’s election: try to scare the hell out of Louisiana’s voters. Vitter’s new strategy is to stoke fear and xenophobia after Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
On Saturday, the day after the attacks, Vitter began making phone calls to voters with a recorded message that warned of “the potential for harm in our own backyard” because of Obama’s reported desire “to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees” into the country. “We can’t allow Obama to turn Louisiana into a dangerous refugee zone,” Vitter warned.
On Sunday, Vitter released a letter to the press that he had sent to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “As you know, New Orleans is expecting an influx of Syrian refugees, some of whom have already arrived,” Vitter wrote. “Based on all the information available to me, I have no confidence that these refugees are being fully and properly vetted to ensure they contain absolutely no terrorists elements.”
Vitter’s statement struck some observers as strange. That’s because his wife, Wendy Vitter, is general counsel for the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, the organization hosting most of the 14 Syrian refugees who have landed in Louisiana since January 2015.
Why Vitter didn’t ask his wife about those refugees was puzzling, unless one understands that Vitter’s letter was about nothing more than reviving his gubernatorial campaign by injecting terror into the state’s political bloodstream.
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