Not being especially interested in the David Vitter/Deborah Jeane Palfrey story, I haven't posted anything on it. And I guess I thought that while Vitter is undoubtedly (and appropriately) embarrassed about it, it's not the sort of thing that kills a Senate career. Put it this way: if I were a Louisiana voter, I would 'forgive.'
Novak writes (in his E-mail newsletter) that it won't be that simple:
Vitter: The admission by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that before being elected to the Senate he was at some point a client of an infamous Washington escort service may appear to have little political significance for now. The senator does not face re-election until 2010, and his wife was apparently made aware of the situation long ago.
- However, the matter will not rest there by any means. First of all, the accused madam involved -- Deborah Jeane Palfrey -- is going to trial and has announced she will subpoena Vitter. Her defense is that her service was not a prostitution ring, so the nature of Vitter's testimony, under oath, would be to show exactly what he did while using the "escort service" and how many times he did it. Vitter could avoid going into such lurid detail by taking the 5th Amendment (after all, solicitation is a crime), but that would also look very bad for him.
- Second, this is not the first time Vitter's morals have been called into question. When he ran for Senate in 2004, his enemies brought up old accusations (from when he first ran for Congress) that he had had a year-long affair with a prostitute in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
- Beyond that, tales about Vitter's behavior abound in Louisiana. Even if every single one is false, this revelation suddenly gives them new currency. In the future, Democrats will send mailings at the right times and exploit his weakness.
- Unlike the embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Vitter is a Republican. His base will be much harder to mollify when it comes to charges of wrongdoing. True, Jefferson is actually accused of malfeasance in office (bribery), but Republicans are always held to a higher standard by their own voters, who tend to place special value on family issues.
- As Louisiana's only statewide-elected Republican, Vitter is currently the don of GOP politics there. This scandal not only devalues his political currency, but it also embarrasses other Republicans. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), a Vitter protégé, is far and away favored to win the governor's race later this year. But now he is saddled with Vitter. Jindal has already called for Jefferson to step down. Will he call for Vitter to do the same?
- Democrats will have lots of fun with this. They may not be able to win the governor's race, but they could make it more competitive by using Vitter to embarrass Jindal. Vitter cannot step down right now even if he wants to, because he would be replaced by a Democrat. If he wants he leave, he has to wait until Jindal becomes governor...
It sounds like a very difficult position for a man that Novak makes sound like a cut-rate version of Bill Clinton. When you think about it, it's particularly odd that this would be a real problem in the state that produced Edwin Edwards, David Duke, Earl Long, and even John Breaux -- who was well known as a 'lady's man,' during his Senate career.
Depending on how long Palfrey stays in the news -- particularly through trial and possible appeal -- this could be an even greater problem than it currently is.