David Vitter has been elected to the United States Senate twice by the state of Louisiana — by margins of 19 points and 22 points — in a state carried by Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, 57.78 percent to 40.58 percent in 2012. But two polls recently showed him trailing state representative John Bel Edwards (D) in Saturday’s runoff for governor by double digits. Vitter is seemingly about to do the unthinkable: Be a Republican who loses an election in a deep-red state.
While part of it may be the widespread unpopularity of term-limited Republican incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose disapproval rating hovers at a historic 70 percent, Vitter’s own personal behavior and record helped spur Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne (R), who garnered about 15 percent in last week’s gubernatorial jungle primary, to cross party lines and endorse the Democrat Edwards. “The Republican brand has been damaged by the failed leadership of Bobby Jindal during this last term,” Dardenne said in his endorsement announcement. “David Vitter’s governorship will further damage that brand.”
Here are some highlights of Vitter’s record:
1) ‘Most Corrupt’
Vitter has been cited by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington three separate times as among the “most corrupt” legislators in Washington, D.C. Among the reasons: he paid his cousin with political action committee funds, was admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee for actions that undermined a “basic principal of government service,” and that he likely violated state prostitution laws. Edwards is making the fact that Vitter’s number appeared on the D.C. Madam’s phone list an issue in a campaign ad.
2) War On Federal Employees’ Healthcare
Vitter’s fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act has not waned since its passage in 2010. His campaign website calls the program “a disaster” and he pushed for a full repeal of the law this year. But his most fierce push has been for what he calls the “No Exemption for Washington from Obamacare Act,” a proposal to require all executive branch political employees and congressional staffers to get their health insurance through an exchange, with no employer subsidies whatsoever. Republican colleagues have blasted the effort as “disingenuous” and “entirely political,” and, according to Politico, congressional aides privately “have fumed about Vitter’s proposal every time it comes up, because leaving the subsidized federal health insurance program might require them to pay more and change their doctors.” This would mean that federal legislative and executive staff would not get what 62 percent of the nation’s employees do.
3) War On The Poor
In 2011, with 50 million Americans in poverty after the economic meltdown, Vitter proposed capping funding for food stamps and 76 other federal welfare programs at pre-2007 levels by 2015 (or when unemployment fell below 7.5 percent, whichever came sooner). In his own state, the poverty rate hovers near 20 percent — far above the national rate of 14.8 percent. “We are overdue to renew welfare reform efforts and make additional gains because the welfare state has grown enormously since then — even factoring our recession,” he explained at the time. Two years later, he authored a restriction to prevent anyone convicted of a violent crime or sexual assault from receiving food stamps — for the rest of their lives — and last year he also proposed requiring the remaining beneficiaries to present a photo ID every time they used food stamps, as an effort to reduce “fraud surrounding the taxpayer-funded program.” In reality, government audits have revealed that food stamp fraud accounts for just 1 percent of the program.
4) War On The Planet
Vitter’s Senate website boasts that he works to “promote a common-sense and balanced approach to a fact-based energy and infrastructure policy that harnesses the power of America’s job creators to grow and maintain a strong economy.” In practice, this has meant he has denied climate science, backed the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency, proposed legislation to reduce criminal liability for oil spills, denounced CO2 emissions limits, and mocked 15,000 furloughed EPA employees as an example of why the 2013 federal government shutdown was not “all bad.” His strongest praise, he reserved for oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, who he termed “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.”
In 2010, Vitter embraced the most extreme anti-Obama rhetoric, endorsing a “birther” lawsuit challenging the president’s eligibility to be president. “I know all the information I’ve been able to get my hands on through the media. But obviously with the mainstream media as a filter, that’s not a whole lot,” he lamented after a town hall attendee asked him about Obama’s birth certificate. “I personally don’t have standing to bring litigation in court. But I support conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court. I think that is the valid and most possibly effective grounds to do it.”
In a last-ditch attempt to catch up, Vitter and the Louisiana GOP have spent much of the week demonizing Syrian refugees.