The calculus has changed somewhat for him over the past several months, but not in any consistent, or even politically favorable way. Even with Vitter’s only vulnerability being admission of a “serious sin” connected to an escort service, overall Vitter would be a difficult opponent to defeat, and events since the beginning of the year have made him even more formidable:
- The capture of the White House by Democrat Pres. Barack Obama has been as blessing in disguise for Vitter in four ways:
- It has allowed Vitter to become one of the highest-profile critics of Obama, showcasing his conservative ideology in a state that barely mustered 41 percent of the vote for the very liberal Obama last year when the major alternative was a moderate.
It has hurt Democrats like Melancon in particular because it has become increasingly difficult for Melancon to masquerade as a moderate, with the self-proclaimed deficit hawk voting on numerous occasions with Obama to dramatically expand the size of the federal government.
- It conveys a small electoral advantage in 2010 to members of the out-party like Vitter in their contests. Historically, members of the party not in the White House running for the House do disproportionately better in off-year elections, while Senate candidates do slightly better.
- Unless something unprecedented happens, Obama and the Democrats’ economic policy is going to lead the country into a recession as bad as the late 1970s-early 1980s, and maybe even worse. There is no way Vitter would lose to a Democrat under those conditions.
However, pressuring Melancon to run isn’t so much a result of an improving statewide profile for him, but of a deteriorating district situation:
Melancon’s problem is two-fold. As any politician at this level must do, he has to act soon on forecasts a year out which may be wildly inaccurate. Also, indications are his chances are deteriorating at both the district and state level, and it is never good for a politician to feel compelled to act out of growing weakness as opposed to growing strength.
So when he states he will make a decision in the coming weeks, this translates as he needs more time to assess the way the political winds are blowing. But if current trends continue, expect him to go with the office he would be favored to win which might disappear in two years rather than the one he would be an underdog in that definitely would give him six more years in Washington, unless he feels really insecure about his district and/or hubris seizes him.