Political profile: David Vitter
NAME: David Vitter
HOMETOWN: New Orleans
EDUCATION: B.A. Harvard and a B.A. from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, juris doctorate from Tulane Law School
U.S. Sen. David Vitter is the first former or current U.S. senator to campaign for governor in Louisiana since Newton Blanchard won the gubernatorial race in 1904.
Vitter entered politics in the 1991 race for the Louisiana House of Representatives, 81st District, taking over the seat from former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke when the seat was vacated so Duke could run for governor.
He remained in the House of Representatives until 1999 when he was a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston in the 1st Congressional District after Livingston resigned during an adultery scandal.
Vitter had planned to run for governor in 2003, but withdrew, giving marital problems as the reason. However, the withdrawal did also coincide with a report from Louisiana Weekly that Vitter was having an affair with a prostitute.
It was in 2004 that Vitter replaced Sen. John Breaux in the U.S. Senate and became the first Republican to be popularly elected as a senator in Louisiana, the only other Republican, William Kellogg, having been appointed by the legislature in 1876.
Vitter is now a ranking member of numerous committees including the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Vitter is a staunch conservative, both fiscal and conservative. He has an “A” from the National Rifle Association and opposes abortion, gambling and same-sex marriage. He is also a supporter of the Tea Party movement.
Two key pieces of legislation he has put forward as a senator has been the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2008 and the bill that increased the liability cap on oil companies in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
However, much of Vitter’s tenure in the Senate has been marred by the 2007 “D.C. Madam” scandal. It was revealed he was frequenting prostitutes in Washington and was forced to admit to the act and ask for forgiveness. His wife, Wendy, three daughters and one son stood by him and even with this scandal, Vitter still won re-election in 2010 by defeating Democratic candidate Charlie Melancon.
Currently, Vitter has attended only two gubernatorial debates, avoiding most, including last Wednesday night’s debate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Student Union with an estimated 200 people in attendance.
Even though he was not present, his absence was noted numerous times by his opponents. Fellow Republican Scott Angelle, District 2 member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, responded to negative attack ads by saying they were coming from Vitter, who he called “Senator Pinocchio.”
“It’s simple down here in Louisiana,” Angelle said passionately. “If someone asks you if you committed a crime, if you say ‘no,’ then that means no. But if you say anything else, then that means yes.”
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana House of Representatives minority leader and the only Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial race, had his own opinion.
“I wish that question could be asked to him, but he’s not here so you can’t,” Edwards said. “I don’t want to ascribe any general motive, but I will just tell you that the pattern this year is he does not show up to events where he does not know the questions in advance.”
Ryan Teten, chair of the UL Lafayette political science department, gave his opinion as to why Vitter would skip these debates and how it may affect his campaign.
“I think that more than anything else this is going to hurt him in the long run,” Teten said. “Usually an incumbent or leader never has anything to gain by actually debating because if he would have been here they would have just teed off on him the entire time, so his view is, ‘I’m leading in the polls, I can skip it, not a problem.’
“But what he’s missing is that these local audiences and these crews that are listening on TV or over the radio are hearing his absence and that may influence a few voters. If you’re a voter here in the Lafayette area and he didn’t bother to come and talk about the issues that are central to you, I mean, all politics is local and that may have cost him some votes in the end,” she continued.