By Robert Mann
Speaking to a Baton Rouge Rotary club recently about Louisiana’s governor’s race, I noted that Sen. David Vitter “has a woman problem.” The audience — most of them middle-income, white conservatives — erupted in laughter.
“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” I said, as the chortling subsided. They thought I meant Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal. But, as I explained, polls reveal that Vitter, unlike his three opponents, faces a significant gender gap. In one recent statewide poll, by Southern Media and Opinion Research, the difference between Vitter’s support among men and women was 15 percent. Among Republican women, the gap was even bigger — 17 percent lower than among Republican men.
After the breakfast, that statistic became real to me. Several women who identified themselves as staunch Republicans sought me out to say that, under no circumstances, would they vote for Vitter. The reason: his prostitution scandal.
I still believe — as I wrote several weeks ago — that a runoff with the race’s lone Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, remains Vitter’s to lose. A Louisiana Democrat has not won a statewide race in since 2008. Whites have largely abandoned the Democratic Party since 2000 and a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race since 2008.
All that said, it’s interesting to note — and probably a bit worrying to Vitter — that his prostitution scandal still dogs him among some women. Vitter can still win, even with the wide gender disparity, but if he doesn’t close that gap, it could make his path to victory uncomfortably narrow and somewhat perilous.
As you might imagine, Edwards vigorously disputed my earlier analysis of his odds of winning. Edwards is a good-natured sort, so when he called to discuss my column, it was not to scold but to nudge me to look more closely at the polling.
One point he made, supported by internal poll numbers his campaign provided me, is that many voters are not as acutely aware of Vitter’s prostitution scandal as one might presume. It exploded eight years ago, which is a lifetime in politics. And while Vitter survived the scandal to win re-election in 2010, he never faced the barrage of attacks that he will endure in the coming months.
Lest you charge me with relying too heavily on Edwards’ own numbers, I should note that the case for Vitter’s rough ride is also supported by recent numbers in an independent poll conducted in May by Market Research Insight (MRI), financed by more than a dozen prominent Louisiana business executives. A Florida firm, MRI is headed by respected Louisiana native Verne Kennedy, who has worked mostly for GOP campaigns. With the permission of the poll’s sponsors, Kennedy gave me the results, including some of the internal numbers, or “cross tabs.”
First, after examining this and other polls, it is increasingly difficult to see how either Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle can leapfrog Edwards to claim a runoff spot with Vitter. Anything can happen in Louisiana gubernatorial politics, which I noted a few weeks ago, but time is running out for Dardenne and Angelle. One of them needs to make a move — and soon.
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