The rest of us may be out enjoying the holidays, but the family of Sen. David Vitter will be deep in reflection and prayer over whether or not Dad should run for governor. Oh, please, pass the egg nog.
For all the difference their meditations would make to a decision probably already made, the Vitters would do well to hang ornaments and go caroling with the neighbors instead. It’s hard to imagine Vitter asking his supporters, as he did in a recent email, for their “thoughts and prayers” about whether to “bring my focus and leadership to the challenges we face as a state” only to up and say next month, “Nah, I’ll pass.”
That he will declare his candidacy in January would not surprise those who’ve watched him begin to turn his back on Washington and get more involved in state politics, including sharp second-guessing of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Others, though, would wonder what would possess him to give up a seat in the Senate, safe for life, to come home to a job limited to two terms and largely affected by decisions made in Washington.
That answer is easy for any Louisiana boy raised on politics, for whom the Governor’s Mansion is where the action and fun is, as opposed to these days in Congress, which is bereft of action or fun. For a man who knows he’s not going to be president, governor of Louisiana is the next best thing.
Yet, for an individual to go directly from U.S. senator to governor is something that has rarely, if ever, happened in any state, though there was Huey Long, who became a U.S. senator and, in effect, remained the governor.
Still, if Vitter declares for governor, he should explain in advance what he intends to do, should he win, with the office he holds now.
If elected, his first official act would be to appoint someone to finish the last year of his Senate term. That prospect makes giddy dozens in politics who aspire to be the chosen one.
It seems only logical that candidate Vitter would use the potential appointment to his electoral advantage. Already, pols and pundits largely agree that the smart choice for him would be Treasurer John Kennedy, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2008. He placed second behind Vitter in a recent statewide governor’s poll, and draws from the same conservative voter pool.
The scenario would be that Kennedy at some point declares he’s not running and endorses Vitter, who wins and appoints Kennedy senator, who then would be the odds-on favorite to win a full term in 2016.
All very neat. Too neat. That’s because no student of politics as astute as Vitter could miss the lesson learned last month from the “Neil deal.”
When former Congressman Rodney Alexander announced his resignation this summer and was tapped the next day by Gov. Jindal to be secretary of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the resulting special election seemed tailor-made for well-prepared state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia. All parties deny there was any collusion, but the conspiracy theory lived large throughout the 5th Congressional District, and played a major role in the landslide victory of Congressman Vance McAllister, R-Swartz.
Given Vitter’s reputation for cunning and Kennedy’s for ambition, in a governor’s race, a Senate-deal conspiracy theory would be hard to put to rest. Even if Kennedy simply declares he isn’t running and makes no endorsement, there would be the suspicion, fanned by opponents, of a secret handshake between the two.
Vitter could squash such rumors before they start simply by stating when he announces that, if elected, he would only appoint someone senator who would pledge not to seek a full term, thereby ensuring an open and fair election, without the undue influence of the governor.
Perhaps it’s naïve to suggest that Vitter be so apolitical. But to forego the leveraging of a Senate appointment in order to get elected governor and to cede control of that seat would be seen as a confident and magnanimous gesture, which most voters would laud and respect, making it, in a roundabout way, the politically shrewd thing to do. In other words, classic Vitter.