The Louisiana gubernatorial race between Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards got nastier with the release on November 6 of an attack ad that questioned Vitter’s patriotism. The video ad recalls Vitter’s prostitution scandal, in which the senior Republican senator admitted to involvement with a Washington D.C. businesswoman who was eventually imprisoned for prostituting women to political heavy-weights in the nation’s capitol.
Sen. David Vitter responds in a video.
Analysts say that this is one of the most severe attack ads seen in recent memory, while theorizing that it may signal nervousness on the part of the Edwards campaign that a win may not be in the offing. Viter and Edwards will debate twice before the final poll. The advertisement accuses Vitter of calling an escort service "minutes" after skipping a 2001 U.S. House of Representatives vote to honor 28 troops killed in a 1991 Desert Storm missile strike.
The ad, released by the Edwards campaign, falsely indicates that Vitter missed a vote in the Senate to honor 28 soldiers who died in the service of the United States. Contrasting Vitter’s peccadilloes with Edwards’s military service, the ominous female narrator on the 30-second video ad states:
"The choice for governor couldn't be more clear. John Bel Edwards, who answered our country's call and served as a ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division. Or David Vitter, who answered a prostitute's call minutes after he skipped a vote honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom. David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots. Now, the choice is yours."
Vitter’s campaign responded when campaign co-chair, Col. Evans Spiceland (US Army, retired) declared “As a veteran, I think it's disgusting that John Bel Edwards is using veterans' grave stones in a gutter political attack ad," who added, "This is a disgrace to those of us who actually live by the honor code."
Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar responded to the ad, saying "John Bel Edwards is resorting to gutter personal attacks because he does not want anyone to know his liberal record — raising taxes, supporting Obamacare, opposing oil and gas industry, opposing school choice and on and on." Bolar added, "David Vitter, a Louisiana conservative, is completely focused on leading and building a brighter future for Louisiana, and he's done more to help veterans in Louisiana than anyone."
On Edwards’s side, "Voters have a right to know who the candidates really are," said Mary-Patricia Wray for the campaign. In announcing the attack ad, Wray said "David Vitter's hypocrisy should not go unchecked, and this is yet another reason why Louisianans can't trust him."
Edwards’s attack ad refers to House Concurrent Resolution 39 in the 107th Congress on February 27, 2001. Vitter was serving as a U.S. Representative at the time. The measure sought to honor soldiers killed by an Iraqi missile attack just days before during Operation Desert Storm. According to the record, Vitter did miss the vote. Records do show Vitter missed the vote.
The Edwards campaign provided the previously published list of alleged "D.C. Madam" calls, one of which was to Vitter that day, although the call didn't come during the vote. As its source material, campaign used phone records previously released by Hustler Magazine in 2007 showing a phone number belonging to Vitter receiving a brief call on February 27, 2001 from a phone belonging to the business of D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. That call came in at 6:06 p.m. ET: fully 39 minutes after the 17-minute House vote ended, according to congressional records and C-SPAN coverage.
To listen to the State of the Union address by President George W. Bush, which Vitter attended, the House adjourned at 5:35 p.m., and reconvened at 8:45 p.m. There is no indication that Vitter participated in House business onthat afternoon. That vote was the only one requiring House representatives to be present in the chamber that day. In 2007 Vitter confessed to a "serious sin" after the "D.C. Madam" scandal broke, but he has never provided details about the serious sin.
In analyzing the attack ad, a post at left-wing DailyKos opined:
"The broader question is whether Edwards' decision to go nuclear over Vitter's prostitution scandal—in a way Vitter's electoral foes never have before—signals anything about the state of play in this race. Polls have shown Edwards with improbably large leads of 8 to 20 points, but this isn't ordinarily the kind of ad you run if you feel you're comfortably ahead."
Furthermore, the Daily Kos said that Vitter “hasn't show much ability to fight back.”
As for Edwards himself, while in Shreveport over the November 7-8 weekend, he responded to questions about the ad and Vitter's strategy of linking the Army veteran to President Barack Obama. Edwards appeared to shy away from the association with Obama: a figure who polarizes the electorate in Louisiana. Said Edwards of Obama, "We have not met. He is a Democrat. I think that's all you have to be to have that ad run against you."
Once considered a shoe-in for the governor's chair, Vitter garnered only 23 percent of the vote in the primary. Some Republican colleagues are critical of his tenure in the U.S. Senate, and at least one of his Republican primary opponents has endorsed Edwards. In the Senate, his outright repudiation of Obamacare has earned him the enmity of establishment Republicans and Democrats. In October of this year, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which he chairs, blocked his request to subpoena documents to investigate how members of Congress and their aides became eligible for health care under Obamacare’s D.C. exchange. Five fellow Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul, blocked Vitter's request. Of Vitter's subpoena request, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said, “I thought there were more appropriate uses of the Small Business Committee.” She voted against the subpoena request.