James Gill: David Vitter not the candidate people want to have a beer with, even in his own party _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Scott Threlkeld -- Sen. David Vitter celebrates his runoff with John Bel Edwards during his elecion-night party Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, at the Airport Hilton in Kenner.

Although all of our statewide elected officials are Republicans, only one of them turned up last week when U.S. Sen. David Vitter held a rally a stone’s throw from their offices in Baton Rouge.

And the one who did show up, Treasurer John Kennedy, was somewhat less than fulsome. “This campaign is not about who you want to have a beer with,” he said.

If that means Vitter is not the most likeable of politicians, at least one of the absent GOP bigwigs will certainly agree. In the unlikely event that Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne encountered Vitter in a bar, he would not be offering any toasts. He would be more inclined to pour his suds on Vitter’s head.

In his concession speech after his own gubernatorial campaign came up short, Dardenne wished “only one of the two guys” well in the runoff.

Given that Dardenne had made it plain he believed his record had been wildly misrepresented in vitrolic commercials aired by the Vitter camp, it was obvious that this was no expression of party solidarity. Dardenne would appear to favor the Democrat, John Bel Edwards, sharing the not uncommon view that Vitter can be a nasty piece of work.

Maybe the GOP should print up some “Vote for the jerk — it’s important” bumper stickers.

The proposition that Vitter is a jerk will find plenty of support around the State Capitol, where Vitter never was regarded as one of the guys in his days as a state legislator. Only three of the current crop, which is mostly Republican, showed up at the rally. He is seriously short of pals for such a successful politician.

He is certainly not out to win friends in state government, as he showed once again at last week’s rally. “It’s too many of the Baton Rouge politicians that have failed us,” he told the crowd at the rally. It was no wonder that so few of them were present to hear it.

If honeyed words are not Vitter’s forte, it must be said in his defense that what he said there is absolutely true. The state budget wouldn’t be in such an unholy mess if Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators had shown a modicum of foresight and fiscal prudence, and voters know it. They are quite likely to nod in agreement when Vitter disses Baton Rouge.

Prominent among the politicians who clearly hate Vitter’s guts is Jindal, whose poll numbers plummet as the budget, along with his presidential campaign, unravels. There can’t be many who would want to have a beer with Jindal either, and, if he really wanted to stick it to Vitter, he would endorse him in the runoff. So far, however, Jindal seems as uninterested in the race to succeed him as he is in running Louisiana.

If Dardenne felt that Vitter strayed from the truth in his primary attacks, Edwards is here to tell you that the dirt continues to fly in the runoff. Vitter kicked it off with an ad alleging that Edwards planned to release “5,500 dangerous thugs” from the state penitentiaries.

A moment’s thought should be enough to persuade any voter that no candidate would ever run on such a suicidal platform, but a moment’s thought can be a bit much to ask in a campaign.

What Edwards said is that Louisiana, which leads the world in incarceration rates, should find ways to lock up fewer of its citizens. In making that point he said he would make Louisiana number two in the nation, after Mississippi, by reducing the prison population by 5,500. That, he has repeatedly argued, can be achieved if we quit wasting money sending penny-ante nonviolent offenders to prison.

Only an idiot would disagree with that proposition, and Vitter is no idiot. He only agreed to participate in two TV debates during the primary campaign, but at one of them he said, “We warehouse way too many nonviolent criminals in Louisiana.” Since Edwards has no plan to release thugs, the truth is that he and Vitter are really at one on matters penological.

Notwithstanding the built-in advantage that GOP candidates are supposed to enjoy in Louisiana these days, the latest poll puts Edwards 20 percentage point ahead, so Vitter needs to get busy. He wouldn’t have time for a beer, even if someone asked him.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.