How David Vitter has gone from Louisiana GOP celebrity to running vs. establishment he helped create _lowres

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Gubernatorial candidate David Vitter answer questions at the candidate forum held at Southern University on Wednesday, November 11.

In a solo appearance, Republican David Vitter on Thursday night blasted Democrat John Bel Edwards on abortion and other social issues during an event at a Baptist church in Baton Rouge.

Vitter also said while he has long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, Edwards has refused to do so.

“Make no mistake about it. Planned Parenthood is an abortion mill,” he said.

Planned Parenthood provides abortion services in other states but not Louisiana, though a clinic being built in New Orleans has said it plans to.

While Edwards did not attend, his wife, Donna, denounced Vitter’s comments in a prepared statement.

Donna Edwards called the remarks “hurtful and offensive.”

The Republican made his statements at Jefferson Baptist Church. Vitter repeated his charges that Edwards has an inconsistent record on abortion. He said Edwards has called abortion a freedom of choice and sponsored a pro-abortion amendment opposed by Louisiana Right To Life.

Edwards said he has a long record of opposing abortions. He has recalled during televised debates how a physician had recommended terminating his wife’s pregnancy for the couple’s first child, who had been diagnosed with spina bifida. Edwards refused. The daughter is now in graduate school at Southeastern Louisiana University.

In her statement, Donna Edwards said Vitter’s comments are especially bothersome because of that incident.

“The real difference between my husband and David is that John Bel lives his values every day.” Vitter, a U.S. senator from Metairie, faces Edwards, a state representative from Amite, in the Nov. 21 runoff.

Topics at the event included social and economic issues “important to the people of faith,” according to organizers, as well as the candidate’s own story of faith.

Sponsors included the Louisiana Family Forum, Louisiana Baptist Message, Woodlawn Baptist Church and Jefferson Baptist Church.

The Louisiana Family Forum describes itself as an advocate for traditional family values and is often involved in high-profile legislative battles at the State Capitol.

Vitter’s appearance marked a stark contrast to one the night before.

On Wednesday, the Republican took part in an event at Southern University, a historically black school, which Edwards did not to attend.

During that gathering, Vitter renewed charges that the Democrat wants to release dangerous inmates onto the streets of Louisiana, which Edwards has repeatedly disputed.

In response to questions, Vitter denied that campaign ads, which say the prison release would offer freedom for “thugs,” carried racial overtones.

Critics contend the message does just that.

Edwards and Vitter are scheduled to share a stage on Friday in a north Baton Rouge church, just eight days before the runoff.

The gathering on Thursday night came on the same day that a new poll by the University of New Orleans was released showing Edwards with 56 percent of support from voters contacted to 34 percent for Vitter.

Previous polls have shown similar margins, a huge turnaround from the months of conventional wisdom that viewed Vitter as a heavy favorite to succeed two-term Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The next to last week of the campaign has included pointed charges between the candidates.

Edwards repeatedly has branded Vitter as a liar and a cheater.

Vitter has dubbed Edwards a liberal masquerading as a conservative, and one who has gotten historically low ratings for years from key business groups, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.