BAYHAM: Vitter The Formidable

There has been a great deal of speculation about whether Republican US Senator David Vitter will stay in Washington or if he will abandon life in the Beltway for the I-10 corridor.

One group believes that his decision will be made not just by Louisianans but Arkansans, North Carolinians, Alaskans and by voters in other states where control of Congress’ upper chamber hangs in the balance in 2014. Historically, the party out of the White House tends to clean up in the “6th year midterms” and there are enough competitive Democratic seats at stake where a GOP net pick up of the necessary six cannot be dismissed.

The incentive for Vitter to stick around Capitol Hill in the event Mitch McConnell ends up becoming Majority Leader is that the Louisiana Republican, by virtue of being the ranking minority member, is in line to ascend to the chairmanship of Committee on Environment & Public Works.

While the senate post might seem a bit mundane, leadership of the committee would put Vitter over legislation covering more than just wind-turbines and climate change.
Think big money for highway projects and bridge construction and major influence over the oil industry.

Or to put it another way, if Edwin Edwards were ever a senator Environment & Public Works would be the committee he would want to chair.

And since Vitter is not scheduled to be on the ballot until 2016 and with the heavy lifting being done by Bill Cassidy and the Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents in other states, it might be tempting for Vitter to sit back and let history play out.

But the past of least resistance has seldom been the way the daring Vitter had trod, which has others believing that he’s more inclined to go for the fourth floor of the State Capitol than settle for the large chair in one of the Senate committee rooms.

And if Vitter were to channel his political ambitions south, he would go into the governor’s race with more than just 100% name recognition.

A political action committee called The Fund for Louisiana’s Future recently put out word that it has raised $1,500,000. The raison d’etre of this generically named Super PAC is the advancement of Vitter’s political future.

The treasurer of the pro-Vitter Super PAC is lobbyist/fundraiser Charlie Spies, who has a lot of experience with these third-party “weapons of mass campaigning”, having been associated with the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future in the 2012 presidential election.

Beyond the $153 million they raised and spent in the cause of promoting Romney without actually colluding with the official campaign (wink wink), Restore Our Future distinguished themselves as the political equivalent of a B-52 bomber that flattened the presidential candidacies of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, doing the work Romney was either uncomfortable doing or unable to do.

As someone who was closely involved in the Republican presidential primaries, I can attest that the pro-Romney Super PAC had as much to do with its beneficiary winning the party nomination as the candidate and his campaign did.

Having banked away a princely sum by Louisiana standards is noteworthy; that the pro-Vitter Super PAC has almost another two years to raise additional funds is an omen of the potential of this support operation.

The well-funded Super PAC could carpetbomb the opposition on television while the well-funded Vitter personally takes the high road.

And if the GOP takes the US Senate this November, the fundraising opportunities for both Vitter the candidate and Vitter the Super PAC increase exponentially, with the chairmanship of the Environment & Public Works Committee being more of a means than an end for Vitter.

Though other GOP gubernatorial candidates, declared or rumored, have not allowed the grass to grow under their fundraising efforts and possess the advantage of being able to use money leftover from previous state races for a campaign for governor while Vitter would have to start from scratch, nobody doubts the Metairie Republican’s ability to put together a well-stocked state campaign fund in short order, with many of the GOP’s big funders in Louisiana prepared to max out within moments of his announcing for the state’s highest office.

Having won already won two statewide elections and remaining popular with his party base even during the worst of times, Vitter would walk on to the field of gubernatorial candidates as a favorite.

Aided by a seven-figure super pac guided by an experienced hand who chopped down significant presidential timber in 2012, Vitter the quasi-gubernatorial candidate looks that much more formidable.

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