Vitter has the advantage of ten years as a U.S. Senator and a massive fundraising operation at his disposal. He has won two statewide elections and is leading in the polls at this early point in the race. Most analysts believe that Vitter is the heavy favorite to win; however, he does have some obstacles to overcome.
He faces formidable opposition from three candidates: Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, both Republicans, and State Representative John Bel Edwards, a Democrat legislator from Amite. None of the candidates have raised as much money as Vitter, but Dardenne has won four statewide elections in recent years. In fact, no one has won more statewide elections than Dardenne since Hurricane Katrina.
Questions remain about whether retired U.S. Army General Russell Honore will run as an Independent and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will run as a Democrat. Honore is the hero of Hurricane Katrina and has been leading the “Green Army” in the battle for the environment in Louisiana. Landrieu, of course is the Democratic Party’s best hope, but he may be reluctant to run after his sister suffered a rather significant defeat in her Senate race last November. Another wild card is State Treasurer John Kennedy, who is quite popular, and is looking at the Governor’s race, as well as the race for Attorney General or running for re-election as State Treasurer.
If no one else enters the race and it is set at four candidates, it is unlikely that Vitter will be able to prevail without a run-off. As the most conservative candidate in the race, he is well positioned to run first in the primary election, but his eventual victory may very well depend on who he faces in the run-off. If his runoff opponent is John Bel Edwards, Vitter will be the heavy favorite. There are no Democrats in statewide elected office in Louisiana today and that is likely not too change by the fall. However, if he faces either of his fellow Republicans in the run-off, Vitter is looking at a much more difficult road to victory.
In that scenario, the vast majority of Democrats in the state will likely vote for Vitter’s more moderate GOP opponent. In addition, enough Republicans dislike Vitter for either his abrasive personality or his “serious sin” which he committed with presumably the D.C. Madam’s call girl ring that he would be possibly vulnerable.
Vitter’s future may well be determined by who makes the run-off against him. In the 1991 gubernatorial runoff, Edwin Edwards would not have been able to beat any other candidate except David Duke. Thus, he was extremely fortunate to land in a runoff against him. In the 1995 Governor’s race, Mike Foster may have lost to any other runoff opponent except controversial African American congressman Cleo Fields, so he was quite fortunate as well.
It remains to be seen how fortunate Vitter will be in this race; however, to be sitting in his position today after the troubles he has faced in his career, Vitter should already be considered quite fortunate.