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|Vitter Assumes Role of Target|
The national Republican party and editorialists across the land have been gushing over the GOP's dynamic duo of diversity: Gov. Bobby Jindal, son of Indian immigrants, and Congressman-elect Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans, the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.
For all the attention showered on Louisiana's shining new political stars, some hard news was made last week by the state's dark knight, Sen. David Vitter. He was a leading voice among Southern Republicans who opposed the auto industry bailout bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate.
He was strongly castigated by United Auto Workers leaders, especially those at the Shreveport GM plant where workers, already facing a temporary shutdown, fear their jobs could be permanently lost if the government doesn't act.
It will. Even before this Congress adjourned, the White House announced it would use some banking bailout money to tide the car companies over until a new administration and Congress address the issue.
If we've learned one thing from the bailout hysteria so far, it's that civilization as we know it won't end tomorrow if the government doesn't do something today. Detroit's problems will be waiting patiently for the next president, the new Congress and a new plan, which was coming whether the old one failed or not.
Back home, beyond Shreveport, Vitter scored politically. In my unscientific sounding, public opinion on the bailout plan came down between angry opposition and confusion. Many who don't outright oppose some government aid to car manufacturers have very mixed feelings about what should be done. If a new plan works, Vitter can claim credit for killing a worse one. If nothing works, he won't be to blame.
For now, though, it's enough for him that CNN reported on the junior senator in some context other than the D.C. escort service scandal that he became ensnared in last year. The auto industry aid issue, as long as it plays out, enables him to make a new name for himself, a chance to move on.
He needs to because his road ahead is perilous. Republicans prevailed this time because the Democrats could not get 60 votes to end the filibuster and force an up-or-down vote. In the next Congress, it will be more difficult for Republicans to hold that line against 58 Democrats and independents.
The 2010 elections, when Vitter is up, will be all about erasing or holding that thin red line. Vitter knows he is in the cross-hairs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and he wants to make sure his friends do too.
"Just Two Seats" is the subject line on the fundraising e-mail Vitter sent to supporters last week.
"Just two seats are all that stands between President-elect Obama and a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in the U.S. Senate," writes Vitter. He implores supporters to send checks before year-end in order for him to show a strong balance in his campaign account in the next finance report due out early next year.
He states that President-elect Obama and the DSCC are building a warchest to win those two seats, and he warns, "If they sense any weakness in our campaign they will put us at the top of their now-infamous 'target' list--and we will face a well-funded, handpicked-by-Washington challenger."
Of course, Democrats already sense a weakness in Vitter from his recent unwanted exposure. He acknowledges the obvious that the bullseye is on him, writing, "Behind the scenes, President-elect Obama and national Democrats are already plotting and planning to try to defeat me. What's worse, they have the funds and organization to do so--unless we gain an early advantage."
It is doubly important that he gets Republican contributors to commit to him early. Since he assumes the Democrats are coming after him, he may be more concerned that Republicans "sense any weakness" and encourage a challenge to him in the party primary.
Running against Obama is not a bad fundraising strategy in a state where the new president could not crack 40 percent. If that also helps him to clear any Republicans from his path, all the better.