After months of attacks about his prostitution scandal, Republican gubernatorial candidate David Vitter addressed the issue in a new television ad and during a Baton Rouge forum Monday, where he sparred with Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards.
“I failed my family 15 years ago. Everyone knows that,” Vitter told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “That was the most serious mistake of my life. Clearly.”
With less than two weeks left before the Nov. 21 general election — and with early voting already underway — Vitter also released his own commercial Monday with that same message.
Behind in several polls, it’s his most direct attempt of the election cycle to address the prostitution stories that have plagued him for years, though Vitter never used the word prostitution.
“Fifteen years ago, I failed my family, but found forgiveness and love,” Vitter says to the camera while sitting at a kitchen table in the 30-second spot.
“I learned that our falls don’t define us, but rather how we get up, accept responsibility and earn redemption,” he continues over images of him with his wife and children.
If there was any question lingering over just how bitter the runoff between the two has become, the Press Club of Baton Rouge forum should put it to rest.
Standing just a few feet away from each other, state Rep. Edwards called Vitter “dishonest.” U.S. Sen. Vitter accused Edwards of acting “holier than thou” in the race.
The candidates only briefly touched on policy differences, with the bulk of the forum instead focusing on questions about Vitter’s 2007 sex scandal, “spying” in the race, attacks that have been lobbed over the past several months and endorsements they’ve won.
The Press Club forum came just days after Edwards’ campaign launched a new ad accusing Vitter of picking “prostitutes over patriots” — a reference to Vitter’s connection to the Washington, D.C., madam that was revealed in 2007. Edwards’ spot claims Vitter missed a 2001 vote honoring fallen soldiers the same day that phone records show him in contact with the prostitution ringleader.
Vitter has claimed Edwards’ ad should be taken down. Vitter’s campaign argues that it is in violation of a military directive that prohibits candidates from using images of themselves in military uniform without a disclaimer, though the practice isn’t uncommon, including in the Kentucky governor’s race earlier this year.
“This is a clear regulation that applies to thousands of other military folks and former military folks,” Vitter said.
Edwards flatly denied the charge.
“I didn’t put the uniform back on to make the commercial,” Edwards said. “The directive does not apply to me.”
He has agreed to tweak the ad and remove an image of Arlington National Cemetery, following a backlash from some veterans’ survivors.
Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who came in fourth place in the Oct. 24 primary, made national headlines last week when he decided to cross party lines to endorse Edwards in the race.
But Vitter said the endorsement only helped energize his own base. “Our email and our phone lines started exploding off the hook — in a positive way,” he said.
Edwards pointed to the endorsement as evidence he could be a unifying force.
“(Dardenne) is not willing to sacrifice Louisiana by endorsing the fellow Republican who is clearly not the best choice for our future,” he said.
Both Edwards and Vitter have been followed by “trackers” this cycle — operatives who are paid by political action committees to follow candidates with cameras in an attempt to get controversial or embarrassing footage of them.
Vitter said he finds the practice “obnoxious” but common. Vitter’s campaign drew a backlash earlier this fall when a private investigator it had hired was caught filming an Edwards supporter and several others, including Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.
“How can this man be entrusted with the State Police?” Edwards said.
Vitter told the Press Club audience that the finding of his private investigator have been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but he did not elaborate. The U.S. Attorney has not confirmed an investigation.
The two will again go head-to-head on Tuesday in the first televised debate of the Nov. 21 runoff on Louisiana Public Broadcasting and C-SPAN.
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