Louisiana isn’t anywhere close to belonging on a list of swing states, yet Republican David Vitter is at risk of losing not only his gubernatorial race this month, but also his Senate seat next year.
The Pelican State’s senior senator has struggled to unify the Republican vote after finishing second in the Oct. 24 jungle primary with just 23 percent. He trails Democrat John Bel Edwards in multiple public polls heading into the Nov. 21 runoff.
Vitter’s numbers have dipped to a point where, should he lose, some Republicans will want him to drop his bid for re-election to the Senate in 2016 because they are concerned he could put the seat at risk of a Democratic takeover. Republicans are already defending senators in blue and purple states, and GOP strategists don’t want to have to spend money in a state where President Barack Obama received 41 percent in 2012.
Still, with Republican Matt Bevin’s surprisingly comfortable win in last week’s gubernatorial race in Kentucky — after being down in the polls — it’s worth considering whether Obama’s unpopularity in the South could prove enough to vault Vitter to victory, too, and make a Senate decision moot.
Of the six public polls since the end of September in Kentucky, five showed Democrat Jack Conway in the lead with margins between 2 points and 5 points. A sixth poll at the end of October showed Conway and Bevin tied at 44 percent. That was the last public poll in the race, and private polls didn’t hint at the final 9-point margin either.
Just because the polling was askew in Kentucky doesn’t mean it’s off in Louisiana. Even taken at face value, Vitter faces some significant hurdles. Recent Pelican State polls, public and private, show Vitter trailing Edwards by between 8 points and 20 points, and, maybe more importantly, the Democrat is hovering at or above 50 percent.
In Kentucky, Conway consistently polled between 42 percent and 45 percent. He received 44 percent on Election Day, compared to 53 percent for Bevin. Undecided voters were apparently not undecided and not interested in voting for a Democrat.
But in Louisiana, Edwards was at 49 percent, 52 percent, 54 percent and 52 percent in the four public polls conducted since the primary. If those polls are accurate, he may not need any undecided voters to win.
Vitter and Republicans are trying to persuade voters by coupling Edwards with Obama, similar to a strategy Bevin and Republicans employed in Kentucky. But time is running short for the senator, considering early voting started over the weekend. One GOP strategist admitted the party could probably drive up Edwards’ negatives enough to win, but it might take two months, rather than two weeks.
Vitter’s challenges are enough that the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rating is being changed from Leans Republican to Tossup.
But Edwards isn’t cruising to the finish line. The Democrat unveiled a blistering attack ad that explicitly reminded voters about Vitter’s connection to the “D.C. Madam.”
“David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots,” the narrator says. “Now the choice is yours.”