Saturday, January 17, 2009

Louisiana Senate: Jindal Not Endorsing Vitter For Now

By Nathan L. Gonzales

While Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) can point to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) attendance at a recent fundraiser for his 2010 re-election race as evidence of the popular governor’s support, well-placed Republican insiders say that Jindal definitely is not yet in Vitter’s camp.

Instead, they say that Jindal is firmly in wait-and-see mode and has not endorsed the Senator.

“He’ll have to answer to the voters. He’s going to have a chance to do that in the next few years,” Jindal said recently, telling the Baton Rouge Advocate that it was too early to decide support. “I was asked to attend a fundraiser.”

Jindal’s neutrality is unusual, of course, because in virtually all cases, the sitting governor of a state supports the sitting Senator if they’re from the same party. But Vitter’s career has been anything but typical.

In July 2007, the Republican admitted to a “serious sin” after his phone number appeared on a client list of a high-end prostitution ring that was under investigation. According to GOP sources, private polling shows that the once-popular Vitter has close to even favorable and unfavorable ratings and is doing particularly poorly among women.

“Vitter has worked hard to sell the idea that he has fully recovered,” according to a GOP operative familiar with Louisiana. “That’s interesting, but not reflected in polling.”

At the moment, Vitter’s political prospects are uncertain. While some Republican insiders would like to find a strong primary challenger to the Senator, so far no one has come forward. And even Vitter’s critics within the GOP acknowledge that he has done a good job of securing the support of key donors in the state.

Vitter also appears to be trying to use votes to shore up conservatives. On Thursday he was the lone vote on the Foreign Relations Committee against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) nomination for secretary of State.

Part of the Republican concern about Vitter stems from doubts about his strength against a formidable Democratic opponent.

“Our chances of holding the seat are shaky. If [Vitter is] nominated, his chances depend on who he’s running against,” according to the concerned Republican operative, adding that Vitter is operating from a “very significant level of weakness.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already looking to recruit a serious candidate into the race, and the longer Vitter’s numbers remain weak, the better the DSCC’s chances of succeeding.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, Louisiana’s only Democratic House member, could be the Republican’s worst nightmare, but it is unclear whether he has any interest in running. Former Rep. Chris John (D) could give Vitter problems as well, even though he ran an underwhelming race six years ago and some party insiders say that he isn’t likely to run.

It would certainly be helpful to Vitter to have Jindal on board, but it’s very unclear if or when the governor might get involved. Last cycle, he did late television ads for now-Reps. Bill Cassidy (R), John Fleming (R) and Anh “Joseph” Cao (R), as well as unsuccessful Senate nominee John Kennedy. But none of them had the ethical baggage that Vitter possesses.

This story first appeared on on January 15, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.