Those who doubted Louisiana U.S. Senator David Vitter, a Republican, would run for re-election when scandal after scandal plagued his political career for almost a decade, didn’t understand the tenacity, or the brilliance, of the one-term senator.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Vitter graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University. Selected a Rhodes Scholar, he earned an economics degree with highest honors from Oxford, coming back to Louisiana to earn his law degree with honors from Tulane Law School, where he was editor of the Law Review.
Vitter was first elected to the Louisiana State Legislature in 1992, serving until 1999, when he ran in a special election to replace then United States Congressman Bob Livingston. Ironically, Livingston resigned after an adultery scandal.
In a field of six candidates, Vitter finished second with 22 percent of the vote, behind former Louisiana Gov. Dave Treen, who received 25 percent of the vote, and just ahead of third place finisher, former Klansman and Nazi, David Duke, who garnered 19 percent of the vote. The other three candidates received the remainder of the vote.
In the subsequent runoff election, Vitter won with 51 percent of the vote to Treen’s 49 percent. In the next two elections—2000 and 2002, Vitter won with 80 percent of the vote. In 003, Vitter decided to run for governor of Louisiana, but sidelined himself after a Louisiana news magazine ran a story about an alleged relationship between Vitter and a prostitute, saying he and his wife were going to work on “marital problems.”
But he was right back at it again when U.S. Sen. John Breaux retired in 2004, and was the first Louisiana senator ever elected in an open primary, despite the fact that a member of the Republican State Central Committee accused him of having a long-term affair with a New Orleans prostitute.
Then, three years into his first term, Vitter’s name and phone number appeared on the telephone logs of the late Deborah Jeanne Palfrey, known as the “D.C.Madam,” who committed suicide rather than face up to 55 years in jail after being convicted of running a high-end prostitution ring.
A year later, Vitter began raising money for his 2010 re-election campaign, and by 2009 already had amassed an astonishing $2.5 million for the campaign.
The Democratic challenger in the senatorial campaign, U.S. Representative Charlie Melancon, could be described as Vitter’s polar opposite. Melancon, the grandson great-grandson of sugar farmers, was reared in the friendly small-town atmosphere of Napleonville, LA, population 700. Perhaps because when Melancon was growing up, he literally “never met a stranger,” as his world expanded to the University of Louisiana in Lafayette where he earned a college degree.
After graduation, Melancon went back home to Napoleonville, went into the insurance business, running his own agency, and eventually acquired a small chain of Baskin Robins ice cream shops.
In 1987, he was elected to the Louisiana state Legislature, serving until 1993, before returning to his roots in Napoleonville, where he served as president of the American Sugar Cane League.
In 2004, however, he re-entered the political arena, running for the Louisiana’s Third Congressional District Seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected, and was re-elected in two subsequent elections before deciding to challenge David Vitter for his seat in the U.S. Senate. With baggage that went back to his early years in the House of Representatives, Vitter appeared vulnerable.
But appearances are deceiving. Vitter went into the 2010 campaign armed with millions of dollars and the determination to control the ball, rather than go on the defensive.
There were no soft volleys to begin the campaign—Vitter went vitriolic against Melancon right out of the gate, using commercial footage of a group of ethnic people breaking through a chain-link fence and suggesting that Melancon was soft illegal immigration. Though Melancon is a conservative Democrat, Vitter painted him as a liberal who went along with all the policies of the administration, showing black and white photos of President Barack Obama in commercials.
Though Melancon attempted to use Vitter’s propensity to engage ladies of the evening, so to speak, and even questioned Vitter about the legality of procuring the services of a sidewalk hostess during their final debate, it never gained traction.
If David Vitter is re-elected on Nov. 2, it will give new meaning to the term, “Teflon Politician.”