In what some call a bold move and others call a “Hail Mary pass,” U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister and his wife confronted his kissing scandal in his re-election campaign’s first commercial.
Louisiana’s so-called “kissing congressman” describes his “wonderful, Christian wife,” in a 30-second spot released Monday. His wife, Kelly, describes feeling blessed because her husband “owns up to his mistakes.” The pair never talks directly about McAllister’s infidelity in the ad, but it’s the obvious undertone.
“It’s a bold move,” said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, located in the largest city in northeast and central Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District.
Typically, candidates don’t remind voters of their personal scandals, but the kiss lingers as the overriding issue in the 2014 campaign, Stockley said.
McAllister won the seat by focusing on his Christian beliefs and his promises to bring conservative family values to Washington. In office less than a year, McAllister’s re-election is uncertain after an office surveillance tape, leaked in April, showed him planting a kiss in the dark on a married staffer who was not his wife. Republican leaders called on McAllister to resign, but he refused. He faces nine challengers on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The ad, titled “Blessed,” begins with this from McAllister: “Life is filled with ups and downs. … ”
Seated beside him, his wife takes over: “But a man’s character is based on how many times he gets back up and stands again.”
McAllister says he’s “lucky to have been blessed” with his family and wife.
“I’m blessed to have a husband who owns up to his mistakes, never gives up, always fighting for the good people of Louisiana,” Kelly McAllister says, the couple clearly alluding to — though not outright mentioning — this spring’s scandal.
They look to each other and smile as the congressman says, “Some things are just worth fighting for.”
Stockley says those politicians whose wives do not stand next to them after a sex scandal end up out of office. He pointed to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford who resigned under pressure in 2009 after his affair with an Argentine journalist was exposed. In May 2013, engaged at the time to marry the woman, Sanford was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Then there’s the case of Anthony Weiner, a New York congressman, who resigned in 2011 after sending sexually explicit text messages. His wife released a statement of support but did not attend his news conference.
“Now, compare that to David Vitter,” Stockley said. His wife, Wendy, stood next to the U.S. senator when Vitter admitted to committing a sin after prosecutors found his phone number among a prostitute’s effects. Vitter won re-election in 2010 with 57 percent of 1.2 million votes cast.
“This is a risky strategy, but it’s something he may have to do,” Stockley said, adding that McAllister would be the prohibitive favorite but for this scandal. “There have been numerous polls that indicate that this issue is in the minds of many voters.”
Roy Fletcher, a veteran political strategist who handles many Republican candidates, says McAllister’s scandal is the No. 1 issue in the 5th District race. “It’s probably being argued over every table in every home up there,” he said.
Fletcher, who has congressional candidates in other races but not in the 5th District, called the commercial a last-ditch, long-shot effort because reminding voters of the scandal is a big gamble that probably won’t persuade voters who feel mistreated by McAllister cheating on his wife after promising family values.
“There’s probably a poll out there saying this still hangs over the race and he has to get by it,” Fletcher said.
Candidates opposing McAllister, for the most part, had little to say about the commercial when asked Monday afternoon, but all indicated the incumbent is slipping in the polls that their campaigns are buying.
JMC Analytics, of Baton Rouge, in a recent poll for 5th District candidate Dr. Ralph Abraham, a Republican from Archibald, stated McAllister is polling 13 percent, which puts him in third place.
Abraham said, “Our campaign is really not focused on any personal issues that Vance has dealt with and honestly I’m not interested in publicly judging his actions.” Other candidates had pretty much the same reaction.
McAllister briefly toyed with not seeking re-election after the controversy, but his wife of 16 years was with him when he announced in July that he would run after all. McAllister said it was his wife who pressed him to run, saying he owed his constituents the option to vote against him, if they choose, or re-elect him. He won in 2013 with 60 percent of the vote. Speaking to a reporter after the announcement, Kelly McAllister said that accurately described what she said to him.
McAllister has not been shy about admitting his mistake and answering questions about the incident. He previously has said that his wife learned of the affair, which was with a woman who was a close friend of the family in addition to being a staffer in his congressional office at the time, in February after seeing compromising texts on his phone. The couple worked through their problems prior to the April release of the security footage, which taped an incident that took place in December, he said.
Elizabeth Crisp, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report. Follow her on Twitter, @elizabeth crisp. For more coverage of Louisiana politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .