Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” has been shattered like Mel Brooks’s third tablet in his opus History of the World, Part I in the Louisiana gubernatorial race.
While doing an internet search for a friend who needed to contact US Senator David Vitter’s Washington office, a Google ad popped up with the words “Louisianans deserve better than an Unethical DC politician” next to the website jaydardenne.com.
Dardenne’s team had been pitching inside on Louisiana’s senior senator utilizing unkind references to the politics of Washington over the past few months in a roundabout way of linking Vitter with the contempt the hoi polloi harbor towards the elitist and out of touch Beltway.
However Vitter, with his hard right voting record and matching rhetoric, has never been confused with the likes of establishment Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John Boehner. In fact one might have reasonably inferred that Dardenne was talking about Bobby Jindal and not Vitter.
Polling on the governor’s race thus far has unsurprisingly given Vitter a plurality in the 30s though remarkably high numbers for the endorsed Democratic candidate in the race, State Representative John Bel Edwards. Whether
Edwards could be benefitting by association with his distant relative former governor Edwin Edwards and/or being the lone cited Democrat in surveys as the longest tenured “leader of the opposition” to the Jindal Administration does not have that high of a statewide political profile.
Despite being the only candidate in the gubernatorial race who can claim four statewide election victories, Dardenne has not fared well in polls, placing in the teens trailing both Vitter and Edwards by substantial margins.
The third Republican candidate, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, generally runs fourth and is trying to break out from being a regional candidate.
Part of Dardenne’s trouble is that turning Vitter’s right political flank would be a next to impossible task.
Furthermore, Vitter has been endorsed by practically every high profile Republican elected official in Louisiana, several Republican presidential candidates not named Bobby Jindal and former President George H.W. Bush, giving the Metairie politician status as the de facto even if not the official GOP candidate for governor in the minds of voters.
With a brick wall on the right side, the Dardenne campaign has started hurling chin music at Edwards as well, arguing that the Democratic nominee cannot win and that the hard choice for independents and Obama voters is the less abrasive and ideological of two Republicans.
Dardenne’s attacks on Vitter are not so much to peel many votes away from the senator in the primary but to establish his anti-Vitter credentials with moderates, voters lost forever from the scandal and politically pragmatic liberals who dread the thought of a second consecutive TEA Party friendly governor.
Beating up Vitter would make casting a ballot for an “R” a bit more palatable for a liberal voter who ordinarily wouldn’t back a Republican on a bet.
It was a tactic that helped facilitate the biggest upset in Louisiana political history when Democratic voters were cajoled into “ending the embarrassment” of Bill Jefferson’s incumbency in the 2008 2nd District congressional race without mentioning the name of his Republican challenger.
A new front opened up on Vitter with the launch of social media attacks dredging up the same scandal material the senator survived during his 2010 reelection by the Gumbo PAC, which is chaired by a former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
The group recently put up a billboard along the interstate in downtown New Orleans headlined with the letters ABV, an abbreviation for “Anybody But Vitter”. The Gumbo PAC billboard occupies the same space that Edwards had advertised his candidacy earlier this year.
The challenge for Vitter is to maintain the self-discipline to play rope-a-dope with three opponents without brandishing his streetfighter side that he has spent the past decade trying to soften through humorous commercials.
While Vitter has the big advantage in campaign money, PAC support, organization, coalesced support and endorsements, he also has a giant target on his back.
And for Democratic Party trying awake from a decade long coma and a lieutenant governor in his sixties looking at his last viable opportunity to run for governor, the Vitter barrage has begun in earnest.