Senator David Vitter leaves the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 7, 2015. 
Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

Louisiana’s gubernatorial race takes an unexpected turn

When Sen. David Vitter (R) kicked off his gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana, he was labeled the frontrunner by nearly everyone. The far-right senator has already won statewide races; he’s an effective fundraiser; and he has near-universal name recognition in his home state.
 
But Vitter’s road to Baton Rouge isn’t as smooth as he’d hoped.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter survived challenges Saturday from two GOP rivals who called his years-old prostitution scandal a stain on Louisiana, reaching a runoff against Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards in the governor’s race. […]
 
While Edwards always seemed assured of a runoff spot, Vitter bested two other major Republicans to secure his position on the November ballot, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
For those unfamiliar with Louisiana’s unique election system, it relies on what’s called a “jungle primary.” Every candidate runs on the same ballot at the same time – separate primaries for Democrats and Republicans do not exist – which generally means multiple contenders from both parties. If no one wins 50% of the vote, the top two candidates advance to a one-on-one runoff.
 
In this case, John Bel Edwards (D), a state legislative leader, attorney, and retired Army Ranger, earned about 40% of the vote and finished first. Vitter was the top Republican, though he only managed to win 23% of the vote.
 
In fairness, Vitter faced more competitive intra-party rivals, but when the race got underway months ago, the idea of Vitter getting a mere 23% and struggling to make the Nov. 21 runoff seemed far-fetched. And yet, here we are.
 
While the results are interesting enough, let’s also not forget that as the state’s gubernatorial race – one of only three gubernatorial races held in 2015 – moves into its final phase, it keeps getting weirder.
 
How weird? Consider this report, published Saturday morning, by the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
A Texas private investigator was arrested Friday (Oct. 23) in Jefferson Parish after Sheriff Newell Normand said he caught the man recording his conversation with others at an Old Metairie coffee shop, according to our partners at WVUE Fox 8 News.
 
The investigator, Robert J. Frenzel, ran away after Normand confronted him, according to Fox 8.
 
Normand, who has endorsed Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne in the governor’s race, told WVUE he believes Frenzel was spying on behalf of U.S. Sen. David Vitter.
Stick with me for a minute, because this requires a little explanation.
 
From what I gather from local reports, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand is an influential Republican figure who supported a Vitter rival in the gubernatorial race. Last week, Normand got together with some political associates for a regular chat, held once a week at a local cafe.
 
At last week’s gathering, however, Normand noticed an unfamiliar figure, who appeared to be recording the sheriff’s private conversation. One thing led to another, Normand confronted the stranger, tried to take a picture of him, and the guy who was apparently spying on the sheriff took off running.
 
Wait, it gets better.
 
The not-at-all amused sheriff sent his deputies after the stranger, who proceeded to trespass across several private properties, and who was eventually caught hiding behind an outdoor air-conditioning unit.
 
The guy is Robert Frenzel, an operative from Texas, working for a firm hired by David Vitter, who paid $130,000 for the firm’s services.
 
The Vitter campaign didn’t exactly deny anything, saying in a statement that Frenzel “works for a firm that we hired to do research, all within the bounds of the law.”
 
Except in this case, the “research” included recording the private conversation of a local sheriff, without his consent, which is not within the bounds of the law.
 
This story broke late Friday night – too late to affect the election outcome – and Vitter managed to eke out a second-place finish. But the far-right senator already has a history of sordid controversies, the most notable of which included Vitter hiring prostitutes, and it probably won’t help his image that his campaign hired Frenzel, who’s accused of trying (and failing spectacularly) to spy on a local sheriff.
 
 

David Vitter and Louisiana

Louisiana's gubernatorial race takes an unexpected turn