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Senate Race Drawing Interest

With U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) facing re-election next year, potential opponents are starting to seriously consider the race.

Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco is working to find a viable Democratic candidate to oppose Vitter. She said that "there are three people" who are eyeing a challenge to Vitter. Former U.S. Congressman Chris John, Shaw Group Chairman of the Board and CEO Jim Bernhard and U.S. Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-Napoleonville) have all been approached by Democratic Party leaders and encouraged to enter the race. Of the three, the most probable candidate is Bernhard, who would have the ability to personally contribute significant resources into the race. Other Democrats being implored to run include State Senator Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) and New Orleans Councilman-at-large Arnie Fielkow.

In the last few months, Senator Vitter has taken a high profile role among Republicans in the U.S. Senate and has crafted a solid conservative voting record. He has also been leading the charge against several Obama cabinet nominees and was one of only two Republicans to oppose Hillary Clinton's nomination as Secretary of State. While he has labored to secure conservative support in the Republican Party, he is still vulnerable to a GOP primary challenge. He has political baggage from the 2007 revelation of his involvement with the D.C. madam prostitution ring. In a recent Southern Media and Opinion Research poll, Vitter received a respectable 58% approval rating; however, only 30% said they would definitely re-elect him. In addition, 35% of the respondents said they would consider another candidate, while 28% said they would definitely vote against Vitter.

The latest controversy involving Vitter pertained to his hold of the Obama administration's nominee for FEMA Director, Craig Fugate. Vitter claimed that he had a list of questions which had not been "adequately addressed" by Fugate; however, his position was viewed by many as political grandstanding. Predictably, Vitter was blasted by Senate Democrats, including U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). He was also roundly criticized by fellow Republicans such as U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL). With hurricane season approaching, Vitter's stance was seen by many observers to be counter productive to the interests of Louisiana, a state vulnerable to the ravages of storm season. Eventually, Vitter released his hold on the nomination, citing satisfactory answers he had extracted from FEMA.

Sensing that Vitter is politically vulnerable, some Republicans are starting to take another look at challenging Vitter in the 2010 GOP primary. Last week, Suzanne Haik Terrell, former New Orleans Councilmember and Louisiana Elections Commissioner, confirmed her interest in the race. Terrell previously ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002, losing a very close race to Mary Landrieu. Starting in October 2005, Terrell served a three year stint in the Bush Commerce Department, specializing in economic development. If she decides to run, Terrell could be a very formidable opponent for Vitter. She is the only Republican woman to ever win statewide office in Louisiana. She continues to have strong support from a range of Republican activists in the state. Women compose a majority of the Republican voters in Louisiana and Terrell might be seen as a more palatable candidate than Vitter. While Vitter's wife forgave him for his "serious sin," Republican women across the state might not be so forgiving. Other potential GOP opponents for Vitter include Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and retiring Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor.

Among Independents, adult film star Stormy Daniels has finished a successful listening tour in Louisiana and has formed a committee to explore a possible candidacy. Daniels is not a serious threat to defeat Vitter, but she could cause embarrassment for the Senator, by reminding voters of his involvement with the "D.C. madam."

Jeff Crouere is the Host of "Ringside Politics," which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. He is the Political Analyst for WGNO-TV ABC26 and a Columnist for selected publications. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at

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