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NRSC, Vitter Deny Report That Senator Influenced Committee’s Decision on Louisiana Expenditures

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the office of Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) are calling a report that the NRSC jumped back into the Louisiana Senate race after receiving an angry telephone call from Vitter a complete fabrication. A published report Friday evening, pegged to an anonymous source familiar with Vitter’s phone call, reported that the NRSC reversed its decision to pull resources out of Louisiana after the Senator called the committee and “raised hell.” But NRSC officials said in interviews Saturday that neither high-ranking committee officials nor its chairman, Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), have received a call from Vitter in the past week. Vitter’s chief of staff, Kyle Rucker, said late Saturday evening that his boss has not spoken to Ensign regarding the Louisiana Senate race, where state Treasurer John Kennedy (R) is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). “Senator Vitter never spoke to Senator Ensign on this issue,” Rucker wrote in an e-mail to Roll Call. “Vitter supports Ensign spending resources wherever he thinks he can win seats, obviously polling indicates Louisiana remains a prime target.” The Louisiana Senate race represents the NRSC’s lone legitimate pickup opportunity of the election cycle, but it has been an uphill battle for Republicans for most of the campaign. NRSC sources said the committee decided to jump back into the race based on its own internal polling from late last week showing the race to be competitive – a change from the previous week when the committee had signaled it was pulling out based on numbers that looked less promising. “A story regarding the motivation for the NRSC to continue to support John Kennedy’s campaign on TV in Louisiana was simply not true,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said Saturday, referring to Friday’s article on the Politico’s Web site. “Momentum in Louisiana by the Kennedy campaign is clearly showing up in our polling and that, and that alone, is the reason the decision was made.” The NRSC early last week had decided that Kennedy’s chances of winning were minimal, and made a decision to pull its financial resources from Louisiana to focus on the several states where its incumbents are under a severe threat of losing. But late in the week the NRSC’s internal polling showed Kennedy competitive with Landrieu, prompting NRSC officials to change their minds. NRSC leaders were concerned that they not appear to be re-engaging in Louisiana for any reason other than their belief that Kennedy can win, so as not to undermine the Republican’s effort against Landrieu nor create an impression that the committee would make a decision that is strategically unwise simply because of outside pressure. Republican strategists say the Vitter phone-call narrative could hamper Kennedy’s ability to capitalize on surging poll numbers, particularly with potential donors, while additionally making Ensign’s decisions in other races appear suspect. Although the NRSC and Vitter’s office were adamant that the committee’s decision to jump back into the Louisiana Senate race did not have anything to do with Vitter, he and Ensign have spoken about this race generally at different times this cycle. Vitter was described by a source as being helpful to the NRSC on the fundraising front, including raising money for an August event in Baton Rouge with President Bush that benefited both the Kennedy campaign and the NRSC. Vitter, whose first term has been buffeted by allegations that he was a client of a prostitution service, is up for re-election in 2010.

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