David Vitter's scandals flare up in Louisiana governor race

Eight years after he weathered a public furor over his involvement with Washington hookers, Sen. David Vitter has landed in a fresh swamp of scandals. 

The Louisiana Republican's race for governor has bogged down amid allegations involving prostitutes, private investigators, and a love child.

Vitter is facing a runoff election in late November after drawing just 23 percent of the vote in an open primary Friday. His opponent, Democrat state representative John Bel Edwards, took 40 percent. 

That was a steep decline for Vitter, who took his Senate seat in 2005 and had been the favorite to succeed outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. The candidate is scrambling to contain damage from reports that his gubernatorial campaign hired a private investigator to secretly record a Louisiana sheriff’s private conversations.

“The whole private eye thing really makes things kind of weird,” political analyst and University of New Orleans professor Edward Chervenak told AMI Newswire Monday. “All campaigns hire opposition research; that’s normal. But when you’re going out and you’re really spying on your opponents – or potential opponents – that’s Nixonian territory. It’s almost paranoid.”

According to the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand caught a private investigator from Texas recording him having a private conversation at a coffee shop Oct. 23. The investigator, Robert J. Frenzel, was arrested.

That arrest didn’t come to light until after Friday’s vote. By then, Vitter had already found out that old scandals die hard in Louisiana.

His first brush with scandal came in 2007, when Hustler magazine obtained his phone number in a database of clients of convicted "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeanne Palfrey. Vitter, a noted family values conservative, acknowledged his "sin" and asked for forgiveness.

Despite the emergence of bizarre reports detailing his alleged activities, Vitter maintained silence about the scandal, a strategy that seemed to have worked. He handily won re-election in 2010. By early this year, the story was largely forgotten in public. 

That changed earlier in October, after New Orleans blogger Jason Brad Berry released an interview with a local escort who claimed that Vitter had kept her for three years and pressured her to get an abortion when she became pregnant. According to the escort, who goes by various names including Wendy Ellis, she eventually gave birth and put the child up for abortion. 

Although Ellis' own credibility has come in for heavy questioning, the new charges were enough to bring back the old scandal with a vengeance. 

“The prostitution scandal just doesn’t seem to want to go away even though it started back in 2007,” Chervenak said. “And that’s because he never really has resolved the issue; he never has answered the question and it continues to hang over him in the campaign.”

Chervenak said he does not believe those scandals will become the narrative of this race: “Unfortunately, I think one of the major themes is going to be David Vitter accusing John Bel Edwards of being an Obama clone, and John Bel Edwards accusing David Vitter of being a Bobby Jindal clone.”

Louisiana, a Republican state, has not elected a Democrat statewide since 2008. Pelican State Republicans vote at a higher rate than Democrats, and Vitter has more money than Edwards.

“Even though David Vitter had a bad week last week, he has time to recover. The fundamentals are still in David Vitter’s favor,” Chervenak said. “We have a budget crisis. We have crisis in higher education. We need extended healthcare. We have education issues around common core, coastal restoration, Medicaid expansion. And you don’t hear about any of that being discussed.”

Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.

The general election is set for Nov. 21.