Election Notebook, July 15

Today’s edition has continued nastiness in the Senate race between Charlie Melancon and David Vitter, a surprising poll result in New Orleans and candidates pulling endorsements.

JEFFERSON GOP ENDORSEMENTS: Yesterday we reported that the Jefferson Parish Republican Party had endorsed Hunt Downer for the 3rd District Congressional race, giving the Downer campaign a slight boost (only a sliver of Jefferson along the coast is part of the 3rd District). Downer’s opponent Jeff Landry had previously secured endorsements from party chiefs in Ascension, Iberia and St. Martin Parishes.

The Jefferson Republicans also endorsed Sen. David Vitter and incumbent Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and Joseph Cao, none of which was a surprise. What was also not a surprise but ranks as a significant endorsement was the Jefferson GOP’s choice of Louisiana Republican Party chairman Roger Villere, a businessman in Metairie. While Villere needs to attract support outside of the New Orleans metro area in his bid to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor, there is a large pool of Republican votes in Jefferson Parish which can serve as a base for him as he works to secure a runoff spot.

LA DEMS HOWLING ABOUT VITTER “BIRTHER” STATEMENTS: On Sunday, Sen. David Vitter addressed a Tea Party rally, and he was asked whether he supports lawsuits demanding that President Obama produce a long-form birth certificate.

This is what Vitter said in response:

…with the crowd applauding the question, Vitter responded that although he doesn’t personally have legal standing to bring litigation, he supports “conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court,” according to a video of the event.

“I think that is the valid and most possibly effective grounds to do it,” Vitter said, although he later cautioned that the matter could distract from policy issues.

“I think if we focus on that issue and let our eye off the ball … I think that’s a big mistake,” he said. “I’m not dismissing any of this. I think first and foremost, we need to fight the Obama agenda at the ballot box starting this fall.”

And here’s the video of the exchange:

The AP story that resulted from Vitter’s statement says that “Such claims about Obama’s birth certificate have been discredited,” and also that “Hawaii officials have repeatedly confirmed the president’s citizenship, and his Hawaiian birth certificate has been made public, along with newspaper birth notices published when he was born in 1961.” While there is truth in the assertions made by AP reporter Ben Evans, they also ignore the fact that Obama has not produced an original copy of his “long-form” birth certificate and they fail to mention allegations by Tim Adams, a senior elections clerk in Honolulu in 2008 who claims the city does not have a birth certificate on file for the president.

In any event, Vitter’s Democrat opponent seized on his statement in an effort to score points.

“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,” spokesman Jeff Giertz said.

Giertz’ statement was followed by a release from Louisiana Democrat Party communications director Kevin Franck yesterday, which said the following:

Two days after reports surfaced that U.S. Senator David Vitter endorsed law suits challenging the citizenship and legitimacy of President Barack Obama, not a single Louisiana Republican has criticized Vitter’s embrace of the so-called birther movement.

“All Louisianans should be outraged by David Vitter’s support of this nonsense conspiracy theory, and it’s telling that not a single Republican has spoken out against it,” said Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Renee Lapeyrolerie.

As reported by numerous media outlets, Vitter told a crowd gathered for a tea party event on Sunday that he supports conservative organizations who argue that President Obama was not born in the United States.

After Vitter’s birther comments were reported, Governor Bobby Jindal announced that he will remain neutral in the U.S. Senate race, according to The Hill. Last week, former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor entered the race to challenge Vitter in the August Republican primary.

“Louisiana families deserve to know if Republican leaders agree with David Vitter peddling this absurd right-wing fairy tale or if  they have the fortitude to stand up to the fringe birther movement,” Lapeyrolerie added.

Whether Adams’ allegations are true or whether Obama was actually born in Honolulu, as Evans asserts, or even whether Vitter properly fits in the “birther” camp – the senator never said he believed Obama was born elsewhere, he just said that if some conservative groups wanted to pursue the matter in court they should knock themselves out – it’s pretty clear Franck’s release is off-base in demanding that the state’s Republican political figures censure Vitter for failing to denounce “birtherism” when presented to him by his constituents. The piece in The Hill the Louisiana Democrat release references as a citation to imply that Jindal was frightened off a Vitter endorsement because of the “birther” video says no such thing. In fact, it hardly supports Franck’s release at all. Amid what largely amounts to an introduction of Vitter’s Republican challenger Chet Traylor, it says:

Meanwhile, at least one prominent Republican is staying out of the primary — for now. A spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said he’s not focused on the race while oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

“There will be time to discuss endorsements in the coming months,” Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in an e-mail.

Jindal has appeared at Vitter fundraisers but has not made a public endorsement.

The Louisiana Republican Party, however, has been “very actively supporting” Vitter, according to spokesman Aaron Baer. “We’re going to continue to do that.”

Washington Republicans are also standing by Vitter.

“We fully support Sen. Vitter,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “His numbers have only grown stronger as the election cycle has gone on.”

SHOCKER – CAO WITH GIANT LEAD IN POLL: Joseph Cao is sitting on a surprisingly massive lead against state rep Cedric Richmond, according to an internal Verne Kennedy poll conducted for the Cao campaign at the end of May. The results of the Kennedy poll were made public in a National Journal article Monday.

The poll places Cao at a 51-26 advantage over Richmond, including a 67-13 margin among whites and, most surprising of all, 39-36 among blacks. It also finds that Cao has a 54 percent approval rating among his constituents.

These numbers would fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which indicates that Cao is facing a colossal uphill fight against an African-American Democrat in a district which is 64 percent black and over 70 percent Democrat. But if it’s true that Cao has 67 percent of the white vote and 39 percent of the black vote in hand, even if all the undecideds break against him he will still manage a 51-49 victory if voter turnout in the race conforms to the demographics of voter registration. And that would be something of a surprise.

Kennedy tells the Cao campaign he doesn’t believe black turnout in the district will be higher than 57 percent, which is a reasonable assumption given that the rest of the ballot in the 2nd District this fall doesn’t include anything which would serve to energize the black community. Charlie Melancon has historically received good numbers in the black community, but not to the extent that he’s a particular “draw” among that demographic. And further, the Lieutenant Governor’s race doesn’t contain a single candidate with a record of appealing to the black community.

Given that, Cao might be able to get by with anything more than a third of the black vote in the race. That he’s receiving a number above that would pose a major challenge to the conventional wisdom. But the race will certainly be one the national Democrats will focus on in an effort to claw back a seat in a district which might be their only chance to reclaim from Republican hands in this cycle.

The gauntlet was thrown down earlier this week, as National Journal reports…

“Rep. Cao has done anything he needed to in order to stay in good graces with his national Republican benefactors and try to block President Obama’s agenda in a district where voters strongly support it,” said DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson. “The moment Cao voted against historic health insurance reform was the moment we knew our Democratic nominee will be successful in November.”

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