Most political observers will tell you that the 2010 election cycle is one of the most consequential in American history from a policy perspective. With America deep in debt and getting deeper, with the world slowly slipping into chaos, with an economy the majority of the country sees as off-track and with unpopular legislation seemingly barrelling down the pike unabated, voters seem to be looking for honest, substantial discussion of the direction the country will take.
Under those circumstances, you’d expect a three-term Democrat congressman running to unseat a Republican senator to come to the field armed with a host of policy differences and a fully-developed message for voters to contrast with his opponent. But if that congressman is Charlie Melancon, it seems, you’d be wrong.
The Melancon campaign seems to be generating a little bit of heat in its effort to knock off David Vitter (R-Louisiana), but not much light. And in recent days Melancon’s message is that Vitter is a doodie-head.
Last week, of course, was the Stormie Daniels party-switch, in which the loopy porn star and as-yet unannounced candidate for the seat said she was becoming a Republican in the wake of the Voyeur scandal, and expects to announce a decision on running tomorrow.
The Daniels (her real name is Stephanie Clifford) situation is, according to virtually any political insider one talks to in Louisiana, a complete put-up job by the Melancon campaign and its mastermind James Carville. Daniels’ “political spokesman” is Brian Welsh, a longtime Democrat operative who not so long ago was working in the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, also having been a spokesman for Louisiana Democrat Victory ’08 and the Walter Boasso (D) gubernatorial campaign in 2007. It’s a publicity stunt designed to embarrass Vitter and remind voters of his involvement in the D.C. Madam scandal from three years ago.
But that’s not all the substantive weighty policy discussion Melancon is pursuing. He and the Louisiana Democrat Party found a few assorted goofballs to mill around Vitter’s Baton Rouge office yesterday in a publicity stunt to protest the fact that some dry cleaner in California bundled his employees to donate $33,000 to Vitter’s campaign, which is against the law but doesn’t indicate that Vitter did anything wrong. If Vitter gave back the whole $33,000, which he could conceivably do, he’d still have double Melancon’s war chest. If that’s a bombshell allegation which turns the race, Vitter could fix it pretty quickly by returning the money – and one wonders whether Melancon’s kitchen is clean. After all, word today is that neither candidate has immaculate campaign records, which are largely impossible to keep anyway being as though they count on fairly substantial cooperation from donors who aren’t crazy about doing much paperwork for the privilege of giving money to politicians. Campaign finance hardly makes for a compelling electoral story anyway; Barack Obama proved that in 2008.
But the big issue Charlie Boy is all lathered up about is a supposed kaiboshing Vitter laid on his campaign’s plans to set up an event at the University of New Orleans with the Orleans Parish Democrat Executive Committee. It’s hard to discern exactly what happened here, because much of what’s alleged simply doesn’t make sense. But the story goes like this: over the weekend the OPDEC had a meeting planned on UNO’s campus, which is OK under school rules. But that meeting, unbeknownst to UNO officials, was actually a campaign event for Melancon – and that’s beyond the pale. UNO is OK with political events but not political campaign events, a distinction a number of public facilities often make.
Somebody from Vitter’s campaign found the event on Melancon’s campaign schedule and gave UNO’s brass a heads-up about it. That resulted in the OPDEC people being told the meeting was a no-go at the last minute – and getting very bent out of shape as a result.
The Advocate picks up the story:
In an e-mail statement, UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan said Vitter did not threaten the university.
“We were first told that this was going to be a meeting of OPDEC,” Ryan stated. “Then, we received e-mail that was sent to over 12,000 people about this as a Melancon for Senate Campaign Rally. When we found out that it was a campaign event and not a OPDEC meeting, we asked them to move it.”
Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar stated via e-mail, “It was brought to our attention that Charlie Melancon was campaigning on campus, so we touched base with UNO to see if their long-standing policy prohibiting campaign events was still in place.”
The Melancon camp is alleging that Vitter himself made the call and in doing so threatened UNO’s funding, which he isn’t even in a position to do since virtually everything UNO gets comes from the state’s coffers rather than the federal government.
In any event, the UNO folks slapped the thing down. The Times-Picayune takes it from here:
In an e-mail message to Charles Zewe, vice president for communication and external affairs for the LSU system, Ryan wrote that “Senator Vitter did not threaten UNO in any way. We, and the LSU System I think, have a policy against having campaign events on campus. We were first told that this was going to be a meeting of OPDEC. Then, we received e-mail that was sent to over 12,000 people about this as a Melancon for Senate campaign rally. When we found out that it was a campaign event and not a OPDEC meeting, we asked them to move it.”
Rivault said the policy, while not written down until now, had been applied in the past. He noted, for example, that UNO did not let Walter Boasso announce his candidacy for governor on campus in 2007, even though in 2006 he was named UNO’s alumnus of the year.
But (Orleans Parish Executive Committee Chairman James) Gray said he was taken aback by the abrupt cancellation.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “I have been at political functions at UNO over the years, and no one generally pays much attention to you one way or the other.”
The Democratic committee moved the event, Melancon’s appearance and all, to Asia Baptist Church a few miles away, but posted someone at the UNO site to redirect people. Empty UNO police cars blocked the parking lot and UNO officers were also on the scene, but Rivault said that was merely a precaution in case of a protest. He said high school students were also on campus Saturday for testing.
Gray’s inability to distinguish between a political event and a campaign event notwithstanding, we’re told by someone involved in the UNO fracas that this is a perfect example of projection – namely, if anybody was threatening UNO people it was some of the more influential Democrat legislators from Orleans Parish. This might have a little more of a ring of truth to it, seeing as though someone in the state legislature would be in a better position to threaten UNO’s funding. Also, sending out 12,000 e-mails to people means you’ve got a pretty decent-sized campaign event planned, and while Vitter’s campaign certainly might have had an interest in throwing a monkey wrench into his opponent’s plans it’s not like he expects to siphon off many votes from the Orleans Parish Democrat Executive Committee – what he would have to gain from threatening UNO to cancel that event certainly doesn’t appear to outweigh what he’d have to lose from being exposed making nasty calls to Tim Ryan over a one-time hootenanny his campaign could easily duplicate.
In any event, the whole kerfuffle is like a Seinfeld episode. It’s about nothing.
A strategy of silliness and unserious campaigning by Melancon was telegraphed weeks ago, and Democrat operatives will tell you it’s working. On Monday, a Rasmussen poll on the race gave Vitter a 16-point lead, 52-36, which would indicate some erosion of a 24-point lead he held in February. But Vitter is still above 50 percent, and as such he’s hardly in danger. Vitter also has an enormous advantage in fundraising; when the Senator decides to give Melancon a taste of the same medicine he’s dishing as the general election campaign commences, he’ll be doing it with a much larger megaphone.
But regardless of who wins, this is an election more focused on fundamental policy issues than any other in recent memory. A campaign based on porn stars and mean phone calls isn’t going to cut it. Melancon’s record of voting on behalf of the Obama administration 84 percent of the time, including the stimulus package that didn’t stimulate anything but printing presses at the U.S. Treasury, doesn’t put him on the right side of Louisiana’s electorate on most of the issues. And because of that, a campaign based on an intelligent and honest discussion of America’s future which is in the interest of the people of Louisiana isn’t in Melancon’s interest – so we won’t get one.
That’s a damn shame. At least Melancon can be punished with an ignominious defeat to end his political career for his trouble.