From The Times-Picayune:
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Democrats attacked U.S. Sen. David Vitter over his vote Thursday against Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, which Vitter said stemmed from concerns about overseas conflicts of interest.
The Louisiana Republican was the only member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to oppose the nomination, saying Clinton shouldn’t run the State Department because of her husband’s charitable fundraising overseas.
His vote triggered criticism from the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party, which hopes to oust Vitter from office in 2010. Chris Whittington, the state party’s chairman, issued a statement calling Vitter’s vote “a cheap political stunt.”
“President-elect Obama has consistently called for bipartisan efforts to solve the serious challenges facing our country, but David Vitter continues to put his own self-interest ahead of the needs of Louisiana and America,” Whittington said.
Why’d he really vote against her? From The Hill:
Sen. David Vitter’s vote against one secretary of State foretells his fear of another.
The Louisiana Republican’s solitary vote against the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton to become U.S secretary of State on Wednesday is the latest example of the huge steps he is taking to guard against a challenge from his right flank in 2010.
[…] Vitter’s actions suggest he is increasingly worried about a primary challenge — and more than a general-election battle. His GOP challenger likely would be either Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne or Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council who ran for Senate in 2002.
Dardenne appears to be the real threat, and his allies are hinting at a potential clash.
Having apparently weathered a prostitution scandal and maintaining reasonably strong approval numbers to show for it, Vitter is still taking nothing for granted.
After the hearing, he praised Clinton as “a smart, capable colleague” and declared: “I take no pleasure in voting against her confirmation.
In addition to the vote against Clinton, Vitter filed 34 pieces of legislation on the first day of Congress last week, most geared toward shoring up his social-conservative credentials on everything from abortion to stem cell research to praying in public to illegal immigration and flag-burning.
Vitter has also been a leading voice against releasing the second half of the $700 bailout, and has been taking care to ally himself with popular Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Jindal might have hurt that effort somewhat, though, when he told the Baton Rouge Advocate last month that he is not yet endorsing Vitter, even though he headlined a fundraiser for the senator.
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign (NRSC) is standing by the senator.
“Sen. Vitter will have the full support of the NRSC throughout the election cycle, as all of our Republican incumbents will,” said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh.
All of Vitter’s efforts are geared toward the Christian conservative voters he risked losing when he was implicated in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal. These voters have been Vitter’s base in past elections, and losing them would be disastrous.
Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said Vitter’s early actions betray his 2010 campaign strategy.
“You can see how it’s working out,” Cross said. “ ‘Here I am, the lonely, virtuous crusader on behalf of gun owners and pro-life people. Here I am waging a heroic struggle against the liberal Obama administration in the Senate. And you should keep me here to do that.’ ”
The strongest potential Democratic opponent for Vitter appears to be Rep. Charlie Melancon, who hasn’t indicated that he is strongly interested in the race. One candidate who is showing interest is businessman Jim Bernhard, the CEO of the Shaw Group.
Also, earlier this week, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) told local WWL-TV that the state “needs to have a new United States senator, one that will not embarrass us.”
When asked whether she was running, Blanco said, “Today, I am not that candidate.”
Blanco denied interest in the Senate seat Thursday and said she’s actively recruiting Democratic candidates to run against Vitter. She criticized his vote against Clinton.
“That’s typical David Vitter,” Blanco said. “That’s how he was in Baton Rouge. He’s against everything.”
The state was one of the strongest for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 elections, going 59-40 for the GOP nominee, and actually provided Republicans a gain of two congressional seats in an otherwise painful general election.
Louisiana recently replaced its free-for-all nonpartisan elections — under which Vitter was elected to his seat in 2004 — with a traditional primary system, making the support of GOP primary voters all the more significant.