Seems Like It’s 2010 All Over Again

Apparently, last night we were treated to another installment of the endless “Vitter And The Hookers” thing at a forum put on by the Alliance For Good Government.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter‘s 2007 prostitution scandal has been danced around in candidates’ forums for months, but the senator was confronted with a rare, direct question about his “serious sin” during a public endorsement meeting Monday night (Sept. 14) in New Orleans.

The final question to the gubernatorial candidates at the Alliance for Good Government’s forum had to do with whether the candidates had violated Title 14 of the Louisiana law while serving as elected officials. Title 14 is the criminal code.

Vitter initially said he didn’t know what Title 14 was. But he then indirectly acknowledged — in a frustrated fashion —  what the question might be getting at.

“This question was planted as a gotcha question at me,” he said. “I’ve spoken about my past and how my family has dealt with that.

“If that’s not good enough for you, then that’s not good enough. But it’s good enough for Wendy,” said Vitter, referring to his wife.

The senator went on to mention more than once that the question was clearly a plant from his opponent, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Dardenne was the only other major gubernatorial candidate attending the forum.

There is no video of the exchange, of course, because the Alliance For Good Government for some reason doesn’t go for recordings of its events. There’s something to be said for transparency for you.

NOLA.com’s writeup of the potentially-planted query said while Dardenne denied he planted the question he couldn’t contain his glee at its surfacing, and went on to badger Vitter about how he, as a lawyer, could possibly not know what Title 14 is.

And who can blame Dardenne? He needs voters who would otherwise be Vitter loyalists to abandon the Senator, and with a little over a month before the Oct. 24 primary election he and the other Republican in the race Scott Angelle don’t seem to have anything good to use against the frontrunner other than that scandal about hookers.

I say they don’t seem to have anything, because I don’t see anything else. Dardenne, in particular, has hookers on the brain – a week or so ago he was asked what makes him better than Vitter and he said he’d never hired a prostitute. He was working on an angle about Vitter and his Super PAC getting legal fees awarded from the state Board of Ethics after it won a lawsuit over how large donations could be, but that went away when somebody took a photo of Dardenne’s campaign people having dinner with his Super PAC people in what looked like maybe some illicit coordination between the two. Compared to that experience, the hookers thing looks like a safer angle of attack.

Dardenne and Angelle aren’t the only ones pushing the hookers angle. A couple of trial lawyer-funded Super PAC’s, the Water Coalition PAC and the Gumbo PAC, are plying a lot of messaging about hookers onto the airwaves and elsewhere in an effort to beat Vitter to death. In the case of Gumbo PAC, we can probably expect a whole lot more of it should Vitter make the runoff, because while they want to attack Vitter they’re pretty exclusively a Democrat outfit, run by Democrat consultant Trey Ourso who was Charlie Melancon’s campaign manager in that disastrous race against Vitter in 2010, and as Jeremy Alford noted at LAPolitics yesterday the Democrats think they have a better chance of beating Vitter in a runoff with John Bel Edwards than they would with either Dardenne or Angelle as the opposition.

Whether they’re right or not is an open question, but what it points to is the likelihood that Gumbo PAC might be a little quiet until after Oct. 24. The Water Coalition PAC, which seems to have survived a rather ugly rollout last week, seems bent on spending as much cash as they can with ads about hookers right now, and strategically one would suspect that’s aimed at helping Dardenne or Angelle. It’s assumed, though not quite known at this point, that the money behind the Water Coalition PAC is the big-dollar “legacy lawsuit” lawyer John Carmouche and his friends; Carmouche has made many millions by getting judgements against the oil industry on the part of landowners on whose land drilling took place years and years ago and the past practices of oil drilling has created various degrees of environmental damage to the land. The oil industry has complained about the legacy lawsuits creating a good amount of “jackpot justice” in certain courts around the state, with some decidedly outlandish damage awards as evidence.

And Carmouche threw together a PAC with a similar-sounding name a few years ago to get a Republican, Jeff Hughes, elected to the state Supreme Court in a crowded field. Hughes, who presents as an ultra-conservative, also happens to be a fan of the legacy lawsuits and in fact was lower-rated by the business community for his judicial record than John Michael Guidry, the black Democrat he was running against in the runoff of that race.

Interestingly enough, the consultant Carmouche used for the PAC that got Hughes elected was Roy Fletcher, who is Angelle’s consultant now. That might be a coincidence, or it might be evidence of a pretty sharp angle being played by the veteran operator on Angelle’s team – use the trial lawyer money as a force multiplier against Vitter and build his negatives late in the primary by bringing the hooker thing up every five minutes on TV after positioning your candidate as the conservative alternative to the Senator in the race.

It’s an impressive bit of political legerdemain, if that is in fact what’s happening.

But this obsession with the hookers goes beyond the political people. The media won’t leave it alone either.

Last week J.R. Ball wrote a column at NOLA.com that went on and on about how Vitter is going to have to answer the hooker questions if he wants to be governor. And over the weekend Tyler Bridges at the Advocate got what looked like an unlimited amount of space to dredge up everything that was ever said about the scandal, including attention paid to an incident that took place at qualifying in which a cub reporter from NBC 33 in Baton Rouge decided to get in Vitter’s face about the hooker issue. The cub reporter, Derek Myers, is now an ex-cub reporter, because he was fired shortly thereafter – leading Bridges to surmise that Vitter got him canned by threatening to pull his campaign ads off the station.

Maybe that’s true, but the story we got was that Myers knocked over a pair of female Vitter staffers on his way to demanding the truth from the Senator, and NBC 33 actually had video of the incident they weren’t particularly proud of – so perhaps that had something more to do with why he’s contemplating how to make the rent than Vitter not wanting to talk about hookers.

Not that Vitter wants to talk about hookers. He doesn’t. Talking about hookers doesn’t help him politically, it’s embarrassing to him and his wife and it’s painful – because his stupid mistakes with hookers, whatever they were, have put a cap on his political aspirations. He’s a pretty good bet to get elected governor, and if he wins he probably gets re-elected in a deeply conservative state, but after that Vitter is done. The only possible next step for him would be a presidential run and that’s not going to be possible. So asking him about hookers is a little like asking him about getting turned down for a date to the prom, or the time he struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the last inning of the little league championship game.

Vitter isn’t going to answer any of that stuff, and when he gets asked about it he’s probably just going to roll his eyes and say, “Really?” from now on.

Can he get away with that? Should he get away with that?

Here’s the thing. The hookers business has already been litigated with the public. It was more or less the sole issue Melancon raised in the 2010 campaign. And Vitter beat Melancon like a rented mule in that race. It was a 21-point annihilation that so debilitated the Louisiana Democrat Party that they couldn’t even find a candidate for the governor’s race the next year. They ended up running a middle school teacher from Haynesville who raised and spent a grand total of $5,000 the entire campaign.

That was five years ago, and the voters obviously didn’t care. Which isn’t the greatest surprise in the world, after all – this is a state which elected Edwin Edwards governor four times, and if you think Vitter’s dalliances with hookers is a salacious bit of information the dirt out there on Edwards makes Vitter look dry as a board.

And nothing new has surfaced about Vitter and hookers since 2010. There are people peddling new revelations about the same basic facts as before, but nobody has any evidence to show that Vitter continued with his guilty pastime beyond, say, 2001 – which he already apologized for and was re-elected.

Without conducting an in-depth study of all the jurisdictions across the country, I’m reliably informed that you won’t find one with a statute of limitations on prostitution longer than a year. We’re now at 14 years where Vitter and the hookers are concerned, plus an election that he won where the issue was litigated.

The Dardenne and Angelle camps can say “Yes, but that’s not been tested with a legitimate Republican opponent to Vitter,” and it’s possible they’re right. They’d need to be if they can’t make anything else stick against him.

Perhaps some pollster ought to put the question to the people “Do you care about Vitter and hookers enough that it would swing your vote?” and see how big an issue it really is. I hear people tell me that they’re dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who would never vote for Vitter as a result, but then I ask whether they voted for him against Melancon and they clam up a little.

The guess here is the hookers stuff will fall flat unless somebody can prove he went back to that well after he apologized in 2007. Otherwise, Vitter can say that he was wrong, he did his mea culpa, he became a better husband, father and man in learning from those mistakes and he’ll rely on the Christian spirit of forgiveness to move forward, and can we please talk about things that actually affect the lives of people in Louisiana today?

In 2010, that was enough. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be now. All I know is the hookers thing has whiskers on it and it would be more fun if we had something else to talk about.

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