John Maginnis Wednesday, March 5, 2014 0

Jimmy Kimmel Live regularly features its “Mean Tweets,” in which celebrities, from Katy Perry to Larry King, read some awful things tweeted about them.

A couple of weeks ago, in a segment on Congress, Sen. David Vitter read, “I saw David Vitter in Starbucks this morning. Hashtag loser.” Then Vitter made a goofy face, which was reminiscent of his 2004 commercial, filmed with his family in the kitchen, that portrayed him as Doofus Dad.

Politicians, when it suits them, sometimes carefully indulge in self-deprecating humor, though most would avoid using the word “loser,” which is bad karma.

But as far as mean tweets go, the Vitter barb was nothing compared to the venom and ridicule, mostly centered on his 2007 sex scandal, that came pouring from the Twitterverse as soon as Vitter announced he was running for governor in 2015. The most civil word used to describe him was “hypocrite.”

Anonymous comments aside, even stalwart Republican Tony Perkins, the Louisianian who heads the Family Research Council, stated that the junior senator, as a candidate for governor, still has some explaining to do about why his phone number was found in the address book of a Washington woman who ran a prostitution ring.

Don’t count on his saying much, though, as he figures he won’t have to. The “serious sin” Vitter admitted to won’t keep him from being governor — not in a state that elected Edwin Edwards four times. The story of the redeemed sinner, even one not real specific about his transgressions, plays well among church-goers most offended by that behavior.

The greater image problem for Vitter, which his enemies are bound to play up, is that many perceive him as an upright, uptight moralist and hard-edged conservative ideologue with a take-no-prisoners style. That profile, acceptable in partisan Washington, could be a lodestone in a bid to be the father figure leader of all the people, who, in this state, are a diverse, complex and often unruly lot.

Successful candidates do well to play against what it is the voters have come not to like about the current officeholder. After two terms of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, the one declared Democrat for governor, warned against more of the same when he said, “If you think Jindal was bad for Louisiana, I think David Vitter would be Jindal on steroids.”

In his announcement, Vitter distinguished himself from his fellow Republican in promising that governor would be his last public job. He could go one better by showing that he’s not so tightly scripted and self-controlled that he can’t risk, once in a while, not taking himself so seriously.

Not that he’ll be spinning off one-liners or doing anything to let anyone get around him on the right. He made that clear in his starting campaign swing through north Louisiana, when he stopped at the three altars of conservatism: he led a roundtable discussion with business people in West Monroe; spoke at the Louisiana Life March rally in Shreveport; then headed to a veterans’ event in Alexandria.

But down the campaign trail, things will be different from what they were in his Senate race. This time, Vitter can’t count on an easily demonized and Obamacized Democrat emerging as his main opponent. Of the declared candidates, the polls show the one most closely rivaling him is Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. The Baton Rouge Republican may not be as fiercely conservative as Vitter, but he has a strong cultural and political connection with a broad range of voters. He knows Louisiana as well as anyone in public life. And he can tell a joke.

In an all-GOP runoff, it may come down to which Republican scares Democrats and independents the least. Vitter would do well to lighten up some. We may well see that goofy look again.


Landrieu’s Re-Election Raises Questions

Sen. Mary Landrieu has said before that when she was growing up, the real politician in the family was “young Mitchell.”

Her three tight Senate elections have earned her the nickname “Landslide Landrieu.” But that sobriquet was no joke to Mitch’s opponents after he won 64 percent of the votes to be re-elected mayor of New Orleans.

The victory in the primary was a validation of his campaign theme of unity and progress. It was a huge relief to big sister, who can get on with her tough re-election bid this fall without the threat of collateral damage that a contentious mayoral runoff could have caused to her political base.

Strategically and tactically, Landrieu seemed to control every aspect of the campaign — even, seemingly, those he had no control over; that is, the start of his predecessor Ray Nagin’s federal corruption trial and the two-day freeze that occurred in the final week. The former reminded voters of how bad a situation the incumbent had inherited, while the latter gave him the command-and-control presence of a leader above politics.

If Landrieu, as his opponents charged, doesn’t listen enough to others, it can be said that Nagin, indicted on 21 counts, listened too much to sycophants and crooked contractors.

Even with a city that’s beginning to be governable, there’s no tougher job in politics, with less chance of a political future, than that of mayor of a major city. The people are closer to their leader. Their demands are ever greater than the city’s revenues. Crime and poverty are intractable. The blame for every calamity is inevitable. Ask the mayor of Atlanta.

In New Orleans, the pressures are compounded by the politics of race, which Landrieu acknowledged is not behind us. He ran amidst the strong sentiment of African-Americans that it was time one of their own took back the mayor’s office they had held for eight terms between the time when Moon Landrieu left office and his son won his 2010 election.

At the other end of the spectrum, some Republicans saw the opportunity to derail the political careers of the mayor and the senator, the state’s last two major Democrats in office. National Republicans reportedly considered meddling by funneling contributions to main challenger Michael Bagneris. But in the end, they didn’t get involved.

Local Republicans may have learned their lesson about what good spiting the Landrieus, as they did in supporting Nagin over Landrieu in 2006, ultimately did for the city.

Based on early precinct analysis, the mayor won about half the black vote against two African-American opponents and at least 80 percent of white support.

Having avoided the pitfalls of a re-election campaign, Landrieu now must overcome the second-term jinx that’s bedeviled so many mayors, governors and presidents. Often the way it goes is that the larger the re-election margin, the less of a mandate there turns out to be.

But with New Orleans topping national lists for cities to visit and, of all things, start careers, the mayor has a favorable wind at his back. Before him loom potentially game-changing building projects: the massive hospital and medical complex rising near downtown and a planned new airport terminal that should make for, at last, a positive first impression as the gateway to the city.

The most intriguing political question, though, is how long Mitch Landrieu’s second term will last. State Democrats, apoplectic at the prospect of a Gov. David Vitter, have already started the drum roll for the mayor to enter the 2015 governor’s race. He dampened that speculation somewhat when he was asked at a forum if he would serve out his second term. He said he would. But is that his final answer?