July 10, 2014

Vitter Breathes Easier?

Top Opponent Yet to Emerge

With a handful of potential primary and general election challengers taking a pass, Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) road to re-election in 2010 now looks a little clearer than it did last week.

Still, Vitter’s political rehabilitation after being tarnished by his ties to a prostitution scandal is far from certain, and the lack of public polling on the Republican incumbent leaves some question as to his true electoral strength.

Late last week, former Rep. John Cooksey (R-La.) was reportedly interested in taking on Vitter in the primary. But the former 5th district Congressman announced Monday that he is not running, in a statement that included some nuance.

“While I do not always agree with David Vitter’s position on social issues, I believe David Vitter does a good job representing the people of Louisiana on fiscal matters,” Cooksey said in a statement to the Concordia Sentinel. “If David Vitter emerges as the Republican nominee in the 2010 Senate race in Louisiana, I will vote for him.”

It was never clear that Cooksey’s candidacy was more than idle chatter. Lee Fletcher, the former Congressman’s chief of staff and campaign manager, confirmed Monday that he had had no contact with his former boss about a potential Senate race. Fletcher, now chief of staff for freshman Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), lost the 2002 open-seat race to replace Cooksey, who left to run for Senate.

Cooksey co-hosted a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Vitter late last year, along with former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D), the entire Republican Congressional delegation at the time and a considerable list of former lawmakers, including ex-Reps. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and Billy Tauzin (R-La.).

The “Mardi Gras in December” event was one step in Vitter’s plan to dissuade potential challengers. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) attended the event but has not yet endorsed Vitter’s re-election bid, a rare move for a sitting governor, considering the Senator is of the same party.

“He’s been doing everything he needs to do,” one GOP insider said of Vitter’s efforts.

While Vitter has been working hard to shore up his base, Cooksey was not the first potential primary challenger to be mentioned.

After Vitter’s name was linked to the D.C. Madam prostitution ring in July 2007 — and his subsequent admission that he committed a “serious sin” — questions about his electability have persisted. But the Senator’s biggest vulnerability is likely in the form of a conservative primary challenge instead of the general election next year. Louisiana has trended more and more Republican in recent years, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won 59 percent of the vote there in the 2008 presidential race.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is considered a potential serious threat to Vitter because of his appeal to social conservatives. But Perkins, a former Republican state Representative from East Baton Rouge who heads up a Washington, D.C.-based conservative group, has said he is less inclined to run and could not be reached for comment Monday.

In the 2002 all-party Senate primary, Perkins finished fourth with 10 percent, while Cooksey was third with 14 percent.

Secretary of State Jay Dardenne (R) has said he is being encouraged to consider the race, but he doesn’t appear to be taking steps toward a run, either.

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