As he looks for a message to gain ground with voters, Republican candidate for governor David Vitter has returned to a strategy that served him well in past elections: criticizing other politicians.
He’s described Baton Rouge as “broken and dysfunctional” and lacking in adult leadership. In his latest ad, he returns to talk of taking away politicians’ “perks,” as men are showing playing poker in a smoke-filled room and riding in golf carts.
The approach may draw voters dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in Baton Rouge, in a race where Vitter lags in the polls. But it could also alienate — or at least irritate — the same elected officials Vitter, a U.S. senator, will need to fix the state’s hefty financial problems if he wins the Nov. 21 runoff against Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards.
The Louisiana House Republican Delegation on Tuesday announced its endorsement of Vitter. Rep. Lance Harris, chairman of the delegation, wouldn’t release the vote tally but said more than two-thirds of the chamber’s Republicans supported the endorsement.
The critical ads that seem to target lawmakers didn’t come up, Harris said.
“Personally, it doesn’t bother me because I know it’s a gubernatorial race. We have to have a good solid conservative in the position. I think that’s the bigger issue,” said Harris, R-Alexandria.
The Senate’s GOP delegation hasn’t given Vitter the same backing, though a few members have announced their individual endorsements for Vitter.
Sen. Danny Martiny, leader of the Senate delegation, said he objects to “this rhetoric that Sen. Vitter is spewing about how corrupt we are and all these perks we get, none of which happens.” Plus, Martiny said, none of the Senate’s Republican members have asked for an endorsement meeting.
“To the contrary, I’ve gotten calls saying, ‘Don’t waste our time,’” he said.
Martiny, R-Kenner, had a recent run-in with the Vitter campaign, when a private investigator working for the campaign was accused of secretly filming the senator, the Jefferson Parish sheriff and others at a Metairie coffee shop. The man was arrested and faces a misdemeanor charge. Vitter called the incident “bizarre and fairly silly.” His campaign said the investigator works “for a firm that we hired to do research, all within the bounds of the law.”
Martiny, who supported Republican candidate Jay Dardenne in the primary, said his objections to Vitter go beyond the taping of his conversation. He described Vitter’s approach as divisive.
“I’m looking for somebody who wants to lead our state and work with the Legislature to fix our problems,” Martiny said.
Vitter has repeatedly positioned himself as an outsider who would take on the politicians when he was a state lawmaker and a member of Congress, even though he’s been in elected office for more than two decades.
In one of his earliest TV ads before the October primary, Vitter struck at the “politicians in Baton Rouge,” saying he’d get rid of their “special perks and giveaways, like thousands of unnecessary state cars and millions in pet projects.” He touted his successful push for term limits as a state House member.
“They say I’m annoying the politicians,” Vitter said in the ad, chuckling. “Must be doing something right.”
He followed that with a television spot featuring his wife Wendy saying her husband “has the courage to stand up to the Baton Rouge politicians.” Vitter’s new ad this week takes a similar tone.
Harris dismissed the ads, saying: “If I responded to everything like that or let it hurt my feelings, when I listen to talk radio in my car I’d have to pull over and cry. I have thick skin.”
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