Despite Scandals, David Vitter the Louisiana Primary Favorite

Associated Press + More

NEW ORLEANS — Republican Sen. David Vitter survived a 2007 prostitution scandal and has shrugged off fresh questions about his judgment in allowing an aide to remain on his staff for more than two years after a violent attack on a woman.

Vitter has been dogged by questions about his personal life. Yet in a GOP year and in a GOP-leaning state, the incumbent is on track to win Saturday's primary against two little-known Republicans.

With little competition from his own party, he has focused on Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, his likely opponent in November.

The two are engaged in a war of attack ads, with Melancon running one that touches on Vitter's 2007 admission of an unspecified "serious sin" after his phone number appeared in the records of a Washington prostitution ring.

It also refers to the scandal that broke earlier this summer when ABC News reported Vitter had kept an aide who dealt with women's issues on staff even after he was arrested for attacking a woman in his apartment. The woman, identified by police as his ex-girlfriend, told police the aide used a knife in the attack. Her chin and hand were cut, but she was not seriously injured.

The aide pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in the case but wasn't let go until more than two years later, after ABC's report. Vitter's office said the senator accepted the aide's resignation after learning of additional legal problems, including a drunken driving case.

The campaign manager for Vitter's best-known primary opponent, retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, says Republicans encouraged Traylor to get into the race because they feared another scandal was lurking.

But so far, Vitter appears strong. A poll of 600 registered voters taken for a group of local television stations by Clarus Research Group found 74 percent of Republicans said they would vote for him, compared with 5 percent for Traylor and 3 percent for little-known Republican Nick Accardo. The same poll also gave Vitter a 12 percent edge over Melancon in November.

Traylor has problems, too, stemming from his love life.

Traylor's wife, who died last year, was once married to a Democratic state legislator, with whom she had two sons. Last month, that legislator publicly accused Traylor of helping break up his marriage in 1997. Complicating the issue: The sons are now in a bitter legal fight with Traylor over their mother's estate. And Traylor is romantically involved with the estranged wife of one of the sons.

Traylor said he was mystified anyone would make an issue of his relationships.

"I have done nothing that I wouldn't do again," he said.

Traylor headed into the final week of the campaign with little money — about $70,000 — compared to $5.3 million for Vitter, who continued to focus almost all of his attention on Melancon.

Taking advantage of President Barack Obama's low popularity in the state, Vitter has repeatedly linked Melancon to Democratic policies, including the health care overhaul, which Melancon voted against.

Melancon also faces a primary Saturday against little-known Democrats Neeson Chauvin and Cary Deaton. He is expected to win. [See who is giving money to Melancon's campaign.]

The margin of error in the statewide poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points. An additional 100 Republicans were added to augment the questions about Saturday's GOP primary, which is open only to registered Republicans. The margin for error in that survey was plus or minus 5.9 percentage points.