Vitter Faces Louisiana Primary Test

Louisiana's primary will test whether scandals have weakened the incumbent senator.

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Tuesday saw high-profile primaries in five states, and the last big primary days of the year comes on September 14 seven states will choose their major-party congressional nominees. Flying under the radar are Louisiana and West Virginia, which hold their primaries on Saturday. In Louisiana, the contenders for one Senate seat and seven House seats will be chosen. And in West Virginia, Republican and Democratic candidates will be nominated for the office vacated by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd.


Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter is defending the seat he won by a 22-point margin in 2004. Since then, Vitter has enmeshed in two high-profile scandals. In 2007, he was connected to a Washington, DC, prostitution ring run by the so-called "DC Madam." Then earlier this year it came to light that a Vitter staffer had been allowed to remain on staff after pleading guilty in 2008 to attacking an ex-girlfriend with a knife. 

Vitter will try to shake off his troubles Saturday when he faces former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor and physician Nick Accardo in the GOP primary. An independent poll commissioned by several Louisiana television stations and released last week suggests that Vitter remains popular among Republican voters. He has a commanding lead among likely GOP voters, with 74 percent of the vote compared to Traylor's 5 percent and Accardo's 3 percent, with a margin of error 5.9 percent. Vitter's nearly $11.4 million in campaign funds raised this election cycle also gives him a commanding financial lead over Traylor, who has taken in $72,020. Accardo has no FEC financial reports available. 

On the Democratic side, current Rep. Charlie Melancon is leading a field of three candidates, including retired postal worker Neeson Chauvin, Jr., and attorney Cary Deaton. In a poll of likely Democratic voters, 43 percent said they would vote for Melancon in the primary, compared to 3 percent for Chauvin and 2 percent for Deaton. However, a majority of respondents--52 percent--said they were undecided. Neither Chauvin nor Deaton has filed campaign finance reports, but Melancon's $3,247,417 in receipts put him in an advantageous position for Saturday's fight.

Many analysts still say that the seat is "leaning" or even "likely" to remain Republican. A poll of registered voters shows that, while the GOP is favored, this race could potentially go either way come November. When presented with the hypothetical choice between Vitter and Melancon, 48 percent of voters chose the incumbent, and 36 percent were for Melancon. Most election analysts see an incumbent pulling in under 50 percent in a poll as a sign of vulnerability, and the "undecided" 14 percent may allow Melancon--or another Democratic candidate--enough room to eke out a victory. 

There is a chance that Louisiana's House districts could go all-red this year. Of the state's seven districts, it appears that two in particular could change party hands, including the state's only district represented by a Democrat.

One seat that could possibly flip is that in the Third District, being vacated by Senate candidate Melancon. Attorney Ravi Sangisetty is unopposed in the Democratic primary for this seat, and will face one of three Republicans vying for the nomination. The Republican primary will be important, as many analysts predict the seat to be more likely than not to go to the GOP. 

Attorney Jeff Landry and Hunt Downer, a retired Army Major General and former Speaker of the Louisiana House, have devoted much of their preprimary energies to attacking each other. Landry has the lead in fundraising, with $554,047 in receipts, though nearly $55,000 of that has come from Landry himself. Downer has slightly less, with $501,059 in receipts this cycle, though he has accelerated his fundraising in recent weeks. Nearly $90,000 of his total has come in the last 19 days alone, since the August 8 filing deadline. Kristian Magar, a district manager for an oil and gas company, is well behind in fundraising, having taken in less than $40,000. But he may be able to harness the support of the Tea Party to get votes. Earlier this month, Magar received the endorsement of the Tea Party of South Louisiana.