The first independent media poll of the campaign season has good news for U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Secretary of State Jay Dardenne in their respective races this fall. The statewide survey, taken Aug. 15-16 by Washington-based Clarus Research Group for WWL-TV, has Vitter leading Congressman Charlie Melancon by a margin of 48-36 percent. That lead is not nearly as big as Vitter's margin in GOP polls, but it's larger than the margin shown in Democratic surveys.

  In the lieutenant governor's race, Dardenne leads the pack with 20 percent of the vote, followed by country music singer Sammy Kershaw with 15 percent. Trailing them are St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, 7 percent; GOP state chair Roger Villere, 4 percent; Democrats Caroline Fayard, state Sen. Butch Gautreaux and Jim Crowley, 2 percent each; and Republican Melanie McKnight, 1 percent.

  The margin of error in the statewide survey is plus-or-minus 4.9 percent, according to Clarus president Dr. Ron Faucheux.

  In the GOP Senate primary, the Clarus poll mirrors other recent surveys that have Vitter leading his main Republican opponent, Chet Traylor, by a huge margin — 74 percent to 5 percent. Likewise, Melancon leads his token Democratic rivals with 43 percent of the vote to a combined 5 percent for his two opponents.

  "Vitter posts a solid 12-point lead over Melancon," Faucheux says of the anticipated Nov. 2 showdown between the two major candidates. "He has the high negatives of President Barack Obama and the national Democrats working in his favor." On the other hand, Faucheux also noted that Vitter is polling below 50 percent — "something an incumbent needs to watch. Because Melancon is not as well known as Vitter, Melancon's support has room to grow as he gets better known."

  Faucheux says the "key target group" for both candidates is white women. Vitter gets 51 percent of white female votes in the poll, compared to 67 percent of white men. Melancon gets only 29 percent among white women. Faucheux noted that white women have a substantially higher "undecided" factor (18 percent) than white men (7 percent).

  Melancon's recent TV ads have targeted women voters by pointing out Vitter's prostitution scandal and his decision to promote an aide who has a history of domestic violence.

  Geographically, Melancon leads Vitter in metro New Orleans, but Vitter leads in the Cajun areas by a slight margin (45-39 percent). — Clancy DuBos