Louisiana’s Vitter in Trouble

Oct. 16, 2015 — The latest Louisiana gubernatorial campaign survey, from KPLC Television/ Raycom Media and released Wednesday, projects Sen. David Vitter (R) to be in real trouble in his quest to become the state’s chief executive, which is reflected in the above negative ad (see the Vitter campaign response below).

The 2015 governor’s race – voters will go to the polls to decide the jungle primary on Oct. 24, with the top two advancing to a Nov. 21 general election – has been extensively polled. Sen. Vitter, despite winning two previous statewide elections and both without run-offs, has never polled particularly well but excelled when the actual votes were counted. He wasn’t projected to win the 1999 special congressional election, nor did surveys predict his outright win in the 2004 Senate race. But, these latest numbers appear to reveal tangible problems for the incumbent Senator in attempting to transfer to state office.

The KPLC/Raycom survey (Oct. 7-13; 602 registered Louisiana voters, 400 likely gubernatorial primary voters) finds Vitter trailing state Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) in jungle primary ballot tests. This is not particularly unusual because four other September statewide primary election studies from three different pollsters also find the senator trailing his chief Democratic opponent.

Additionally, such a result is not particularly surprising because Rep. Edwards is the lone Democrat in the field of four candidates. Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and GOP Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle round out the gubernatorial field. All of the polling shows both Edwards and Vitter advancing to the general election, but the September data finds Vitter with low support percentages, from 19-31 percent, which are well under what a twice-elected US senator should be scoring.

But, the KPLC survey is producing greater warning signs to the Vitter operation. When asked whom the sampling universe would support in a general election run-off between Edwards and Vitter, it is the Democrat in this strongly Republican state who fares much better. According to the early October study, Edwards would lead the senator 48-32 percent among the registered voters cell, and an even stronger 52-33 percent within the self-described “likely voter” segment. In late September, the Clarus Research Group (Sept. 20-23; 800 registered Louisiana voters) also found Edwards to be leading the hypothetical general election, but by a more modest 45-41 percent spread.

Largely responsible for dragging the senator down are heavy attack campaigns run from Dardenne and Angelle, as well as a $1 million+ Super PAC formed with the express purpose of attacking Vitter. The Super PAC, oddly called the Louisiana Water Coalition, is funded by only one organization according to the latest financial disclosure reports, the Baton Rouge law firm of Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello who have made their political and legal mark attacking and suing oil and gas companies.

The anti-Vitter media campaign concentrates on his well-publicized 2007 prostitution scandal, as well as controversy surrounding one of his senatorial aides who was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. The latter ad was stricken from the airwaves when the Vitter campaign successfully proved that some of the purported information was false.

Vitter is countering with a new ad featuring his wife, but the overall campaign is clearly intensifying and becoming nastier by the day. Vitter is still likely to qualify for the general election but, if this latest data proves correct, he could be entering the head-to-head contest in a weakened position.

This gubernatorial campaign has an effect upon the 2016 US Senate race. The Vitter seat is in-cycle and, if he wins later this year, a Gov. Vitter will be able to appoint his own Senate successor. If Edwards upsets him, which is now a reasonable possibility, what will be Sen. Vitter’s standing if he then immediately turns around and seeks re-election? Obviously, such a scenario would encourage stronger Democratic candidates to come forward with serious challenger campaigns.

It is still too soon to tell whether John Bel Edwards can complete his upset quest, but the race is certainly turning in an unexpected direction. At the very top of this post is a sample negative ad from the Louisiana Water Coalition; below is a follow-up ad by the Vitter campaign that features Wendy Vitter.

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