Republican candidate for governor David Vitter’s aggressive style of rough-and-tumble politics has served him well in Louisiana and helped build the GOP into the dominant party in state politics.
It’s also become a stumbling block two weeks ahead of the Nov. 21 runoff election.
Democrats appear to have rallied around their candidate, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, while Vitter, a U.S. senator, is having trouble uniting Republicans on his side. In a significant snub, one major contender in the primary election, GOP Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, crossed parties to endorse Edwards a few days ago, rather than supporting Vitter.
Perhaps it’s fallout from the Republican Party’s growth and takeover of most leadership positions in the state. The GOP controls all statewide elected jobs, all but one of Louisiana’s U.S. House seats and majorities in both the state House and Senate.
With more political power also comes more possibility for fissures amid personality and ideological clashes. As the Republicans gained strength, they have seen the types of internal feuds Democrats had publicly when they were the driving factor in Louisiana politics.
Vitter’s scorched-earth campaign approach as he rose from the Louisiana Legislature to Congress has generated complaints from people within the GOP and appears to have worsened internal party divides. And it may have undermined what once seemed like an easy waltz for Vitter into the governor’s mansion.
The difficulty in uniting Republicans for the governor’s race runoff was even referenced in a Baton Rouge rally designed to showcase support for Vitter, after the brutal primary fight between Vitter, Dardenne and Republican third-place finisher Scott Angelle.
“I know that there are hard feelings, but this is not about the past,” Laura Cassidy, the wife of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, told the rally audience.
Whatever fractiousness may be happening with the Democrats, they’re keeping it out of sight as they push Edwards for governor.
For example, Edwards and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had a frosty relationship, particularly as Landrieu was thought to be weighing a run for governor earlier in the election cycle. Now, Landrieu is helping to fundraise Sunday for Edwards, along with a who’s who of Louisiana Democrats, like James Carville and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Vitter, too, has high-profile support from Republicans in Louisiana, including GOP members of the state’s congressional delegation, Treasurer John Kennedy and former Gov. Mike Foster.
But he’s also got the baggage of the disagreements among Republicans — which are in open view after the blistering primary fight.
“That’s Vitter’s challenge, to put all this back together after he’s broken it all up,” said Baton Rouge pollster Bernie Pinsonat.
Angelle, who sought to attract the same conservative voters as Vitter, notably has been quiet since the primary, refusing so far to lend support to the Republican runoff contender.
“He’s going out of town for a few days to reflect and think about what happened, and he’ll address the issue on his own timeline,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, a longtime Angelle friend. “He’s going to give it a lot of thought with his family, cousins, friends and supporters.”
Vitter supporters say the philosophical contrasts between the Republican U.S. senator and Democrat Edwards should be enough to bring traditional GOP supporters to Vitter. They point to Edwards’ support from teacher unions, trial lawyers and other Democratic bases at odds with Republican policy positions.
Some voters, however, see the race about personality and character, and they raise concerns about Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal, allegations he paid a firm to secretly film political opponents and his attack-heavy campaign style.
Edwards sees that area as Vitter’s weakness as well. He’s run a campaign about integrity, highlighting his West Point background and the school’s honor code.
State Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, described his support for Vitter in a post to the conservative political blog The Hayride. Burns said the governor’s race shouldn’t be decided on personality, but on political philosophy.
“Do we really want a governor who is likable, or do we want one to tell it like it is and do what needs to be done, whether people like it or not?” Burns wrote.
Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.