U.S. Sen. David Vitter is taking some hits for being a Birther — after addressing the "issue" of President Barack Obama's birthplace at a Tea Party gathering in Metairie on July 11. At the meeting, a member of the audience asked Vitter what he intended to do about Obama's birth certificate, an issue that one leading GOP strategist has pronounced "outrageous and ridiculous" — and "a stupid and divisive issue."

  Apparently Vitter didn't get that memo.

  The Obama birth-certificate conspiracy theory surfaced during the 2008 presidential campaign. It speculates the president was secretly born in Africa and that all records to the contrary have been planted. The theory has been debunked by official birth records of the state of Hawaii and contemporaneous birth announcements that appeared in both Honolulu newspapers in 1961, and even Obama's critics in the media have disavowed it; Tea Party favorite Glenn Beck has called it the "dumbest thing I ever heard."

  More recently, Bradley Blakeman, a Republican strategist and former Bush administration official, wrote in a July 13 blog post on Politics.com, "Any person who raises a challenge to the legitimacy of President Obama to serve as our president is a nut. Any elected official who raises such a challenge is unstable, and voters should seriously consider their ability to continue to serve at their next voting opportunity."

  In the same post, Blakeman also wrote, "The entire Republican Party is tainted by Vitter's remarks. No candidate deserves to win this November relying on such a stupid and divisive issue."

  Vitter seems to disagree. In videotape from the Tea Party event, he tells the questioner he would support "conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court" — ignoring the fact that in October 2009, U.S. District Judge David Carter dismissed a similar suit, Barnett v. Obama.

  That created yet another opening for Vitter's senatorial opponent, Rep. Charlie Melancon, to pounce. Melancon spokesman Jeff Giertz told Gambit, "David Vitter's endorsement of this nonsense is just the latest evidence that he's been in Washington too long. While Louisiana families are suffering from the biggest man-made disaster in history, David Vitter is trying to score political points by perpetuating a completely debunked conspiracy theory."

  On July 15, Vitter fired back against both Melancon and his own Republican critics with a statement: "This attack is ridiculous. I'm not a birther, and I even said the issue is distracting. But I think people should have appropriate access to the courts. Is even that statement unacceptable now to the liberal thought police?"

  A better question: Then why did he say it in the first place? One good possibility: Two days prior to the Tea Party, former state Supreme Court justice Chet Traylor entered the senatorial race as a Vitter challenger. Traylor has a strong base in north Louisiana and high marks from the Christian Coalition. Could Vitter be feinting even farther to the right in the primary to protect what must surely be an exposed flank? — Kevin Allman