In the final debate before voters head to the polls Saturday to vote for governor, Republican Scott Angelle launched the most pointed attack yet on rival David Vitter’s prostitution scandal.
“We have a stench that is getting ready to come over Louisiana, if we elect David Vitter as governor,” Angelle said, pivoting from a question about higher education.
“There is a shadow that has been cast over Sen. Vitter, a shadow that if it continues, will follow Louisiana. When that follows Louisiana, it hurts our ability to create jobs. It hurts our ability to grow our economy. We can’t have a cavalier attitude about this. I understand a serious sin. It is now perhaps a lifestyle that we need to examine, a lifestyle that Louisiana cannot afford.”
Angelle urged the live audience at LSU and viewers who were watching from around the state to go to a New Orleans-based blog that has been posting videos of a recent interview with Wendy Ellis, a prostitute who claims that Vitter was a client of hers in the late 1990s.
Vitter, the only one of the four major candidates for governor who did not participate in Wednesday’s debate, was in the Senate passing a small-business disaster assistance bill, his campaign said. He has previously denied the allegations.
“Desperate candidates in last place do desperate things,” said Luke Bolar, a spokesman for his campaign. “Grasping at a story on a shady blog that’s been proven completely untrue is pathetic.”
After the debate, Angelle said he had watched the videos posted to www.theamericanzombie.com and finds them embarrassing to the state, whether true or not.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Angelle said. “They’re concerning.”
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, another Republican in the race, didn’t bring them up onstage but said after the debate that he also hopes voters will watch the videos.
“People ought to be aware of all of that,” he said, noting that Vitter has repeatedly declined to elaborate on his 2007 prostitution scandal.
Vitter has apologized and admitted to a “very serious sin” after his phone number showed up in the records of the D.C. Madam, who ran a high-end call girl service. But he also has dismissed repeated attempts to get him to elaborate on his relationship with prostitution.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, the main Democrat in the race, meanwhile, said he hasn’t personally watched the videos. “I know all I need to know about David Vitter,” he said.
Over the course of several debates, the other three candidates have made veiled references to Vitter’s prostitution scandal, but Angelle’s remarks drew gasps from the audience. The videos, which contain an unsubstantiated account of Ellis’ relationship with Vitter, have been circulated online but had not been addressed in the mainstream media.
Ellis had previously described her claims that Vitter paid her for sex in 2007 interviews with The Times-Picayune and Hustler magazine.
For Angelle and Dardenne, the debate largely served as one of the last chances each has to earn one of two coveted spots in the Nov. 21 runoff. Both have been trailing in the polls, and only the top two will advance. Edwards and Vitter have had a virtual lock on those top two spots in polling throughout the race.
The debate, which was sponsored by LSU student media’s Tiger TV, had a mostly student audience and focused heavily on higher education issues, including the state’s popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS scholarships.
With the election looming heavy, Wednesday night’s debate had the candidates frequently sniping at each other and making pointed criticisms at their rivals.
Angelle and Dardenne traded barbs, and Edwards on multiple occasions dismissed the other two’s positions.
Dardenne tried to appeal to the student base watching, noting that he is a past president of LSU student government and served as the student member on the LSU Board of Supervisors.
“I want a Louisiana that looks beyond four years and the next election,” he said, adding that he would look out for students’ futures.
Angelle, who serves on the board of directors for Sunoco, said his experience in the private sector is an asset.
“I have an understanding of financials, of regulatory and of all those things that people in the private sector look for,” he said.
Edwards, who often has touted his record as a military veteran and graduate of West Point, tried to set himself apart as a consensus builder.
“I don’t want to be the Democratic governor of Louisiana. I want to be the governor for all of Louisiana,” he said.