Haunted by Sex Scandals, Could David Vitter Face Political Grim Reaper?
While other pols have succumbed to death by sexual misadventure, the GOP senior senator from Louisiana has stood as an astonishing example of how to cheat the political grim reaper. Often styling himself as a paragon of GOP family values, Teflon Dave not only survived a red-hot sex scandal, he actually thrived in its wake.
Democratic congressman Edwin Edwards of Louisiana once famously told reporters that the only way he could lose an election was if “I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Senator David Vitter’s 2007 scandal featured not only a dead madam, but widespread rumors of, let us say, very unusual sexual kinks. Yet three years later, he sailed to re-election with a 20-point margin. Now the senator wants to succeed term-limited Bobby Jindal to become governor of Louisiana.
For a while, it looked like Vitter’s magic star was poised to rise to new heights. But the eve of Halloween finds several skeletons rattling in the senator’s closet, and he’s having an awfully hard time shutting them up.
Sex, Lies and Larry Flynt
Vitter rocketed into politics at just the right moment back in 1991. Armed with a Harvard B.A., a Rhodes scholarship and a law degree from Tulane, the clean-cut Vitter easily convinced the voters of Metairie, Louisiana, that he was the cure for the kind of stomach-turning politics represented by the likes of David Duke, former state representative and KKK Grand Wizard. Running on tax cuts, family values and strict ethical standards, Vitter handily won a seat in the Louisiana Legislature and nabbed another term in 1995, using his time there to, among other things, loudly denounce the ethical lapses of Edwin Edwards.
It was Hustler’s Larry Flynt who gave Vitter his golden opportunity. In 1998, Congressman Bob Livingston had to say farewell to his seat when Flynt exposed certain inconvenient sexual liaisons. Vitter leapt into the race to replace him. In 2000 and 2002, Vitter was re-elected with over 80 percent of the vote in what had turned into a safe Republican district. In 2004, Vitter ran for senate, weathering a storm of accusations that he had paid for sex. After lying about the allegations, he finally fessed up, apologized and became Senator David Vitter — a perch he used to blast same-sex marriage, denounce a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy and agitate for school prayer.
But what Larry Flynt gaveth, Larry Flynt almost tooketh away. In 2007, Flynt dropped a bomb: veteran investigative reporter Dan Moldea, a paid consultant of Flynt's, had uncovered phone records revealing the senator to be a client of the famed "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey (who, facing jail time for racketeering and money laundering, was found hanged in a shed in 2008, her death pronounced a suicide).
The husband and father of four cited forgiveness from God and wife, managed to dodge criminal charges, then cleverly lay low for a few months. It was lucky for him that the state and national GOP establishment had his back and there really weren’t any serious threats from Democratic challengers. So Vitter cruised on, storing up political capital and donor cash along the way, getting re-elected in 2010. In 2012, he won the eternal gratitude of the insurance industry, which named him one of its Federal Legislators of the Year for the good senator's work on its behalf. His poll numbers soaring, Vitter announced his run for the governorship of Louisiana in 2014, much to the delight of the oil and gas industry, which showered him with money. For several months, he was widely touted as the frontrunner against the Democrat and two Republicans also running in the state’s open primary.
Starting in the summer, things began to get a bit sticky. Old rumors that Vitter liked to visit sex workers in New Orleans began to swirl, culminating in a story by Jason Brad Berry that popped up on the blog American Zombie, featuring an interview with Wendy Ellis, who claimed Vitter was her client between 1998 and 2000 and that they developed a close romantic relationship. She further claimed that he-of-the-vehement-anti-choice-rhetoric asked her to have an abortion after he got her pregnant. And she wasn’t done yet: she stated that despite his request, she had the baby and gave it up for adoption. Plus, she is dying of lupus. Vitter denied the story, but it was enough to raise the ghosts of dalliances past. His opponents salivated and pounced.
Things went further off the rails when a private eye hired by Vitter’s campaign was caught secretly recording a meeting at a coffee shop held by a local sheriff, Newell Norman. Norman noticed a man fumbling around with a smartphone that appeared to be in recording mode and confronted him. The spy fled. Livid, the sheriff sicced his deputies on the man, who high-tailed it through several suprised people’s backyards. Finally, the ill-starred, and, one must add, totally inept spy was eventually found crouched behind an air-conditioning unit, where he was promptly booked on one count of criminal mischief. And he could be staring at a felony.
What was the spying about? Had something to do with a man by the name of John Cummings, who was at the meeting. And who is John Cummings? A well-known attorney who has backed state Rep. John Bel Edwards, Vitter’s Democratic opponent. What does he know that makes private eyes eager to tape him? Beats me, but I can hear those skeletons thrashing around.
The primary was held on October 24, and Vitter barely made it through to the gubernatorial run-off. (Proving that things can always get worse, the day before the primary, Vitter reportedly left the scene of a traffic accident.) Edwards garnered 40 percent of the vote to Vitter’s 23 percent, which means Edwards will face Vitter in a runoff next month. Many call Edwards the favorite, and if you think a Democrat can’t win in Louisiana, consider the kind of guy Edwards happens to be: despite the ill luck of having a name similar to a certain North Carolina avatar of naughtiness, this Edwards is a West Point grad, U.S. Army Ranger and 82nd Airborne commander. He's anti-choice and pro-gun, perhaps just the sort of Dem that even a rabidly red state can warm up to. Vitter, on the other hand, is increasingly seen as a nasty, hypocritical piece of work who rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
A dead woman or a live boy might not cost you an election. What about a dead woman, a dying woman, an alleged love-child, an idiotic spy, and oh heck, let’s just throw it in, rumors that you have a diaper fetish? And there's still a month to go.
The election run-off is on November 21. Louisiana, you just tell the world how crazy you like it.