U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is facing a potentially nasty re-election fight against Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon and eleventh-hour Republican candidate Chet Traylor, sent out a fundraising email Aug. 6 with the subject line, "Mud Alert!" The electronic solicitation outlined what Vitter claims were connections between Melancon and Traylor, whom he described as "nothing more than a tool and stalking horse for Charlie Melancon."

  Later in the email, Vitter indicated that some bad news for him was about to drop: "Vicious attacks are about to start," he wrote, "and Charlie Melancon is clearly behind the push." Elsewhere, Vitter wrote, "And this Melancon-led Republican Primary operation will start vicious attacks against me as early as Tuesday [Aug. 9]."

  Indeed, on Aug. 9, Melancon released the first TV commercial of the campaign, but the ad didn't even run in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge TV markets. And it was hardly hardball — just Melancon addressing the camera. "I'm Charlie Melancon, and I approved this message because David Vitter hasn't been honest with Louisiana," he begins, before describing himself as a "pro-life, pro-gun Louisiana Democrat."

  Within hours, the Vitter camp — which never misses opportunity's knock — had responded with a fundraising email. "Earlier this morning, Charlie Melancon made his first television buy," wrote Vitter campaign manager Kyle Ruckert, "and Senator Vitter needs your help with an immediate donation of $10 to get our message out." But shed no tears for Vitter; he is still far ahead of Melancon when it comes to fundraising. In the first quarter of 2010, Melancon raised $543,000, while Vitter reeled in a cool million from donors.

  But when it came to really flinging mud, Vitter and Melancon ended the week in a tie. On Aug. 12, Melancon released an ad reminding voters of Vitter's hooker scandal and accusing him of voting against equal pay for women. Almost simultaneously, Vitter released an ad accusing Melancon of "using your money to get benefits for illegals," as well as buying a $50,000 SUV. "Keep up the good work," Vitter's ad concluded, over a montage of blue-collar Americans working under a hot sun. "Millionaires, illegals, and Charlie Melancon are counting on you." — Kevin Allman