BEAM: Don’t Rush To Crown Vitter Just Yet

Pardon some of us if we don’t get too excited about U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s decision to run for Louisiana governor in 2015. Candidates are supposed to be judged on what they do, not on what they say. However, Vitter has managed to build an ultra-conservative reputation based on rare accomplishments and by saying the things voters like to hear.

A local voter, for example, said he liked Vitter because he opposes Obamacare and that anyone who is against President Obama’s health care law is OK with him. The fact that Vitter and most other Republicans don’t like Obamacare hasn’t changed the landscape one bit. Like it or not, we are stuck with Obamacare for the rest of the president’s term.

Then, there is the platform Vitter put forth in his Tuesday announcement that he will be a gubernatorial candidate. It could have been written by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is no great admirer of Sen. Vitter. Here is how the senator said he would address the challenges facing Louisiana:

“We’ll do this by building excellence in K-12 and higher education, offering every child in Louisiana the skills to compete effectively and achieve his or her dreams,” Vitter said. “We’ll do it by making Louisiana more attractive to vibrant business, growing the good-paying jobs we need today and tomorrow. We’ll do it by reforming taxes and spending, spurring economic growth and creating budget stability.”

Doesn’t all of that sound awfully familiar? It’s what we have been hearing from Jindal for the last six years. The governor has achieved some of those goals, but others have hurt his job approval ratings.

Vitter knows how to appeal to voters, no doubt about it. In his announcement, he mentioned that he’s held 342 in-person town hall meetings, 128 telephone town halls and “countless other meetings in every parish of our state.”

The senator also assures us he will continue “the critical work I’m doing today in the U.S. Senate.” The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization in Washington, D.C., didn’t have high praise for the 113th Congress to which Vitter belongs.

“If the 113th Congress was a sports team, it would be on a record-breaking streak of futility,” the institution said. “During the first session, the 113th Congress passed fewer public laws than any other Congress since at least 1947.”

Brookings also looked at the effectiveness of all members of Congress during 2013. It said Vitter introduced 61 bills last year, the highest number, but none of those went anywhere. The senator got the headlines he wanted, but zero results.

Vitter has nothing to lose by running for governor. His Senate term doesn’t end until 2016, a year after the governor’s race. Should he lose, he can run for re-election to the Senate. And money will be no object. A third-party super political action committee has already raised $1.5 million to support his re-election or a run for governor, and there will be more to come.

Some have already tried to make Vitter’s sex scandal when he was linked to a Washington, D.C., madam, a major campaign issue. The senator showed that really doesn’t matter if you are conservative enough. He won re-election to the Senate in 2010 after the scandal.

If anyone doubts that conservatism trumps morality, consider what Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said about Vitter’s entry into the governor’s race.

“Sen. Vitter has been a stellar example of the conservative legislator,” Mills said. “From a biblical standpoint, David sought counseling from his church. He sought counseling and reconciliation with his wife… I think it’s probably a healthy example of how imperfect hearts — how this world is made up of only that.”

One Vitter critic said he really doesn’t understand Republicans who preach family values but don’t practice what they preach.

Political experts believe Vitter is the immediate frontrunner, and polls indicate that’s true. If too many Republicans enter the race, a Democrat could end up in a runoff with Vitter. And there is little doubt that would eventually elect Vitter.

The consensus seems to be that another strong Republican — like either Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or state Treasurer John Kennedy — could prove to be a viable alternative to Vitter. Pearson Cross, head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Department of Politics, told The Advocate another Republican needs to force Vitter into a runoff in order to pick up votes from minorities and Democrats.

Dardenne said, “Sen. Vitter’s announcement was expected. It is my hope that the governor’s race will offer Louisianians the opportunity to compare and contrast the records of all the candidates, as well as the merits of their ideas to keep our state growing…”

Good luck with that. You can be sure conservatives will be painting Dardenne as anything but a true follower of their cause. However, that could end up serving Dardenne — or another Republican — well.

Jeremy Alford of said Democrats and independents helped elect U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, when he ran in a special election for Louisiana’s vacant 5th Congressional District seat. Alford called McAllister “a moderate-to-conservative winner.” And as some have said, the state may be ready for others like him who want to do things differently in Louisiana.

Here’s hoping the state’s voters don’t rush to judgment. Vitter talks a good game, but that’s about as far as it goes.

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