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Melancon eyes Senate out of weakness, not strength

Louisiana’s Democrat Third District Rep. Charlie Melancon seems to be reevaluating his previous position not to challenge Republican Sen. David Vitter. In the end, it will come down just how risk he is willing to assume to have a longer political career.

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:

  • He continues to raise huge sums of money, already over halfway to a $5 million. Melancon, who doesn’t yet have $1 million, probably would have to spend in that area to be competitive if Vitter does the same.
  • No distracting challenge within the GOP has emerged to dilute Vitter’s efforts.
  • Opinion polls continue to show that a solid majority approve of Vitter’s handling of his job, and he is just under 50 percent in head-to-head matchups with opponents (if 50 or above, he would be considered a lock at this juncture, and it is instructive to note that these numbers were better than Sen. Mary Landrieu’s at the same point in her contest two years ago which she won with only a minor degree of difficulty).
    1. The capture of the White House by Democrat Pres. Barack Obama has been as blessing in disguise for Vitter in four ways:
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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:

  • He already has a serious GOP challenger talking about opposing him, state Rep. Nickie Monica, in a district that delivered only 35 percent of its vote to Obama (Melancon ran unopposed last year).
  • Seizing on the inconsistency between his rhetoric and actions, national Republicans have been running media pieces highlighting this and appear to be committed to do so for the next 18 months regardless of what office he intends to pursue.
  • Redistricting plans floating around already have his district being merged with the Second by 2012, and this will be the preferred plan by Republicans and black Democrats likely with a reelected Republican governor in order to maximize the chances of Republicans and a black Democrat to be elected to comprise the state’s House delegation if as is probable Louisiana loses a seat through the 2010 census.

    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.

    Anonymous said...

    Does anyone remember the last time Jeff said something remotely insightful or objective?

    Quit the smack man, it's really starting to show.

    Anonymous said...

    Insightful? Yeah, at times.

    But objective? No.

    That said, he doesn't have to be objective if he doesn't want to.

    Unknown said...

    I was just talking to some people around the state about this the day after his announcement. His press sec. doesn't seem to think (allegedly) that he is thinking about the redistricting. But you better bet your bottom dollar the LA DNC and the DCCC is calculating with this move. They are definitely pushing the Congressman in this direction because of the redistricting. Both the Congressman and the Party folks are aware of his GOP competition in 2010.'s going to be an interesting couple of years in Louisiana politics. Just think, we got the David Vitter/Melancon/Stormy show to watch in 2010 and then Bobby is up to bat again in 2011....

    Anonymous said...

    Vitter is vulnerable to losing against a popular Democrat especially if Obama were to come to Louisiana and make a few campaign appearances for him/her.
    I think Vitter will lose a significant chunk of his religious right support because of his prostitute scandal. I believe there is a very remote possibility that if the RNC sees that Vitter is vulnerable they will ask him to step aside and will try to talk Gov. Jindal into running for his Senate seat to save it for the Republicans.

    Anonymous said...

    I think that Jeff is incorrect that Vitter's serious sin will play such a minute role. Vitter is a huge proponent of family values. How can someone intend to legislate with values in mind when he can't even display simple morality in the family?

    I think that some of his more religious supporters will waver because of this. Not all of them, mind you, but some. The real impact will be from Louisiana moderates and centrists. They will look at it objectively and see a man who has sinned indeed.

    It will be interesting to see if Louisiana is willing to ignore that.


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