Tuesday, 06 July 2010 18:58

Louisiana Politics: Melancon vs. Vitter Election and BP Oil Spill

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With qualifying starting tomorrow, the political battles and the Louisiana election season is about to begin, Big Time, or so they say.

At the top of the heap is the campaign for US Senate.

Next in terms of relative importance is the election for Lt. Governor.

Intersecting these elections is the sudden infusion of the  tragic BP oil spill emanating from the floor  of the  Gulf of Mexico due to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Today begins Bayoubuzz’s daily focus on the political elections as the candidates begin their rather short journey into the now-diverted consciousness of voters due to the BP disaster cloud of issues.

Today, we present our first bird’s eye view on the US Senate race.  Tomorrow, we will discuss the election for Lt.  Governor.

Unquestionably, the two heavy hitters are Republican US Senator David Vitter and Democrat, Congressman Charlie Melancon.

There are other individuals who are running for this position but unless any of these other candidates suddenly catch on or unless some high-profile candidate with money and political backing throws his or her hat into the ring, the main event will be Vitter versus Melancon.

Congressman Melancon has an uphill battle, no matter how one cuts the campaign bread.

The poll numbers are somewhere between 9 and 18 points differential.  Although gap closure is not insurmountable especially since it depends upon which poll one believes to be the most accurate, Vitter still commands a sizeable lead.

In overcoming these poll numbers and ultimately winning the election, Melancon must fight the reality that Louisiana is a “red” state that is getting blackened by BP oil.    For almost a year since the Congressman sent out an email declaring that he was “in” the race as a candidate, Melancon has had to deal with the realities that Senator Vitter’s running mate is  President Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid and and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Almost daily, Vitter and other supporting organizations such as the Louisiana Republican Party have evoked Obama’s Reid’s  and Pelosi’s name when referring to Melancon.  Obviously, their goal has been to paint Melancon with the “liberal” brush.

Of course, it appears that the heavens have answered David Vitter’s prayers.  The Obama administration might have won the health care battle but as it relates to the Louisiana Senate race, he could be responsible for losing this war.   To say that the health care skirmish has  been bloody could be the century’s greatest  understatement.  As of now, Obama has managed to help create thriving  tea parties in Louisiana who say they are independent but as of now will be supporting Vitter in droves.  Also, for now, it certainly appears that supporters of conservative candidates who oppose Obama and democrats are super-charged with the possibilities of controlling Congress in the fall.  The color of the national landscape, whether it be blue or red is certainly in play in this Louisiana election.

Then, there is the oil moratorium and the federal response to the BP oil spill.

Obama did not create or cause the oil spill.  However, in the words of democrat, Jim Carville, the administration response is “lackadaisical”.  While those words were uttered weeks ago prior to recent administration actions, many in Louisiana are vehemently opposed to the deepwater drilling moratorium and still see the federal response as anemic  and overreaching.

While Melancon voted against the health care bill and has been at the front of the line fighting the moratorium, the problem is many voters will be casting their ballots not in favor of Senator Vitter or against Melancon but against President Obama and the national democrats.

As of now, Melancon’s line of attack is to cast Vitter as being a pawn of Big Oil and to hit hard on the scandals.

While Melancon has received a sizeable amount of contributions from the oil industry, David Vitter is a major recipient from that industry.  According to Center for Responsive Politics. Vitter is ranked second in the US Senate for industry contributions from 2009-2010 and received over $242,000 from the oil sector.  By comparison, Melancon has picked up $65,000.

Since the oil spill, Vitter opponents have attempted to connect Vitter with the oil industry’s influence.  One area of offense was the linkage of Vitter’s legislation to lift the ceiling on oil disaster liability.  Vitter’s opponents have said his legislation to lift the oil spill liabilities would have been far below the amounts victims will need to be made whole.  Furthermore, they claim Vitter's legislation would have created a ceiling for liability one-half of the amount that Obama has been able to extract from BP.  Also, Vitter’s opponents cite the senator’s opposition to the BP congressional hearings as a sign that the senator is somewhat loyal to the oil industry.

In turn, Vitter and the Louisiana Republican Party have been trying to link Melancon to “Cap and Trade” which much of Louisiana opposes.  Also, Melancon’s opponents have seized on a recent statement by a CNN anchor who questioned one of Melancon’s  statements  as understating the impact of the oil disaster.  Melancon supporters claim the CNN anchor was mistaken and that there is no evidence that Melancon made such a statement.

Vitter over the past couple years has made an amazing comeback from the “madam” tarnish.   For over year, Melancon and followers have attempted to resuscitate that scandal in the form of claiming Vitter is  insensitive to women’s issues.

Recently, that claim might have gained some traction.   Every day, more articles are surfacing that question Vitter’s permitting a staffer with a criminal record to remain on payroll after that staff member  allegedly manhandled and used a knife against his girlfriend.   Vitter opponents say that the staffer then became in charge of  the “women’s issues” for  Vitter’s Senate Office with the senator’s approval.

While Vitter appears to affirm his own knowledge of such attacks by the now-former staffer,  Vitter opponents and  others are claiming that  Vitter is  duplicating his “DC Madam” scandal by refusing to answer questions about the issues.   Recently, the Melancon campaign and the Louisiana Democratic Party have echoed the claims that Vitter is hiding from  the "staffer" affair noting that Vitter refuses to answer questions.   In fact, the democrats have repeated comments from a ABC news team that suggested that Vitter was doing a "dodge" on the staffer matter. 

While Vitter's opponents are claiming that the senator  has a “women’s issue” made evident by the “madam “ and the “staffer” embarrassments, his supporters have cited polls that have indicated the  “women’s issue” is overblown and that it does not impact this election

It is uncertain to what extent the recent “staffer issue” will affect the election since the incident is still relatively fresh in the minds of the media and the voters.

Also, another factor in the election is the color green--campaign money.    Vitter's campaign is flush with cash and will  sizably outspend his opponent.

With the BP gulf oil spill playing out as an ever-going drama causing raw damages to families and businesses, it could be very difficult to keep the voter’s attentions on this and other elections as the political season  begins  to get hot.

As evidence of this possibility is the recent New Orleans elections and the just-completed Louisiana legislative session.   Voters essentially ignored what was billed as a monumental election in the history of the Crescent City in favor of the Super Bowl and Mardi  Gras.  The legislative session despite the overwhelming budget issue essentially fell off the radar in many political circles and off the  front pages of  many newspapers.

Without doubt, the election is Vitter’s to lose as he has constantly maintained a strong lead.  As the past month has displayed, the oil spill is front and center of many Louisiana citizen’s minds and is now even more so as storms howl in the Gulf of Mexico.

As fate would have it, Vitter dodged a distraction in the now ill-fated publicity stunt of one Stormy Daniels and probably has scared off any other opposition.  That we will know for sure later this week.

Given the fact that Americans and certainly many Louisiana voters have shut down other media stories as the  government has shut down even more fishing and sportsmen’s spots due to encroaching oil, the future of Louisiana’s US Senate election might be drowned out by the story of the  oil and the waters.

by Stephen Sabludowsky, Publisher of Bayoubuzz.com

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