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With Vitter's race to lose, Melancon needs luck again

In the end, Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon asked himself two questions, his answers to which would make him choose to exit his House spot and would propel him into a long-shot contest for Republican Sen. David Vitter’s seat.

The first dealt with whether he would have the money to compete. At this time, he has only about a third of the $3.2 million that Vitter has on hand. However, with the GOP having to defend more seats than Democrats in 2010, he probably got a commitment from the national party to help as its resources won’t be spread as thinly as they could be, which could keep him competitive with Vitter.

But therein lies the problem. It is highly unlikely, given Vitter’s past demonstrated abilities in fundraising and his present pace concerning it, that Melancon will be able to stay with Vitter, much less pass him on the money front. History is very unkind to Senate challengers against incumbents by whom they get outspent, as they rarely win – and some of those few wins are because the victorious candidate poured in large sums of his own wealth.

The reason why is that fundraising ability serves as a proxy of candidate strength, since the majority of donors to campaigns are economically rational. Like investors, they don’t want to throw away their money on causes that don’t have a reasonable chance of success. If Vitter were more than marginally vulnerable courtesy of alleged martial infidelities almost a decade ago, he would not have raised and would be unable to raise the sums of money he has and looks likely to receive. Therefore, Melancon chose to enter this contest as a decided underdog, not only from the historical perspective of resources and their use as an indicator of the relative security of Vitter’s position, but also with polls showing Vitter maintaining a healthy lead on him.

Then why do it, especially when he had the alternative of running for reelection to the House? The second question’s answer operated here. Melancon’s position since the beginning of the year politically in his district has deteriorated badly. With the coming of the Democrat Pres. Barack Obama administration, his strategy of acting left but sounding right has become impossible to pursue as increasingly constituents views all his actions from a prism of Obama and the president’s decidedly unpopular liberalism there, which demand just too many visible positions that Melancon cannot duck in their taking. It also hasn’t helped that other blunders, such as revelation of his expensive southern hemisphere tour, have manifested.

Had he sought reelection, he would not have been considered the man to beat by challengers, he may not even have been favored among all candidates. Plus, because of looming constitutionally-mandate redistricting, of the various scenarios the most likely outcome would eliminate his current district by 2012 with no office that year to which to try to parachute. And so the question became very simple: do you run for reelection that is chancy in a district that might soon disappear that gave only about 35 percent of its vote to Obama, or do you run as a challenger in a (statewide) permanent district with dicey prospects where Obama got around 40 percent of the vote? Given the reasonable expectation of enough money to be competitive existed, the latter became obvious.

This analysis underscores the key dynamic of the race as it has unfolded: as pointed out before, Melancon made the move out of weakness, not from strength. If he wanted a continued congressional career, this was the least unlikely alternative for him to maintain it. More to the point, he has entered a contest that he cannot win by his own campaign efforts. Given the already low Democrat tide in the state, Vitter’s slightly reduced but formidable strength, and an evolving political landscape that chances are will not only get worse for Democrats nationally, but significantly worse over the next 14 months, if only facing Melancon, this is Vitter’s contest to lose. There is nothing Melancon can do to win this race, except …

get lucky one more time? Good fortune has marked Melancon’s national electoral career. He was able to take the open seat in 2004 only because of infighting among Republicans left a defeated GOP candidate attacking Melancon’s opponent. In 2006, that attacking defeated candidate emerged as Melancon’s primary challenger but his previous tactics discredited him among enough of the electorate, and in experiencing a good year for Democrats nationally were keys in allowing Melancon to manage reelection. Really bad tides for the GOP in 2008 permitted him to run unopposed. It could happen again in some unforeseen way … or maybe he’s more than used up his quota of good fortune.

Depending on luck as your main asset in a campaign doesn’t make you more than hoping you can beat the odds. But for now, it’s the best that can be said about Melancon’s Senate chances as his best hope to stay in national office past 2010 and his party’s to get the seat at all.


Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed in Vitter. He gets elected and disgraces our state in such a way? And then expects to pull wool over our eyes and act like he never brought the negative publicity?

I wouldn't mind getting a senator in their without all the drama. Simple stuff.

Anonymous said...

It always is astonding how everybody is willing to throw stones....Has anyone ever made a mistake that they are truly sorry that they made? Is it a blood sport to judge in this country now?
If it comes to someone that supports how i believe or Pelosi...then i have no trouble with that choice. Do i wish someone, that is human, had not made such an act...yes. Can i forgive someone....yes. If that person does it again....then it's another story.

We are human people....people make mistakes....go forward.