Oct. 7, 2009 05:00
Vitter has Melancon against the ropes, but is Charlie Boy taking his cue from Muhammad Ali? The No. 1 rule in politics is to define your opponent with voters before the opponent has a chance to do so. Although the election is still some 13 months away, the U.S. Senate race is already at a fever pitch. Internet videos, e-mail blasts and direct mail solicitations are being lobbed by both David Vitter and Charlie Melancon. Without question, Vitter has been the aggressor in the past 60 days since Melancon’s announced candidacy. Vitter has been particularly aggressive with a near daily press release offering some criticism of Melancon. Vitter’s attacks have tried to paint the moderate Melancon as a liberal who is at the beck and call of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama — hardly the case given his opposition to both Obama’s energy bill and vote against the public option health reform bill. On the surface, Vitter’s strategy (given his checkered past after being outed in the D.C. prostitution scandal) appears to be: “I may not be great, but Melancon is worse.” The incumbent is hoping voters will absolve him of his moral failings in order to be the protector of their pocketbook. Melancon, for his part, has chosen not to engage Vitter on a daily basis, and has reportedly been aggressively raising money nationwide. Sources familiar with the Melancon campaign say he will close the September fundraising cycle with between $700,000-$800,000 raised this period.

Readily acknowledging this could be a real stretch, Peep speculates that there may be a more complex, secondary strategy at work. Vitter, holding a $2 million lead on fundraising to the late starting Melancon, is attempting to induce the campaign media war to right now, hoping to lure Melancon into spending money to respond to attacks more than a year before voters go to the polls. Peep thinks that Vitter’s strategy is to have Melancon throw his best shots at this juncture, hoping that voters become callous or immune to Melancon’s certain attacks on Vitter’s character and suitability to be a U.S. Senator, given his sexual indiscretions. It would also have the effect of depleting Melancon financially, leaving him little monetary ammo for the time period when voters will actually be paying attention to the election. It would be a very clever strategy by Vitter, but so far Melancon is not biting, opting to keep his cash and nuclear arsenal of attacks on Vitter over the D.C. prostitute issue in the can until a later date. Another reason, Peep speculates, is that Melancon does not want to damage Vitter so early on that Republicans dump him as the party’s nominee, thereby choosing someone who Melancon would have a difficult time attacking credibly — someone like a Jay Dardenne.

As Vitter mounts more and more attacks on Melancon, trying to link him to Pelosi and Obama, particularly given Obama’s unpopularity in Louisiana, Melancon will have to make a judgment call on what sort of toll the attacks are taking on his candidacy if left unanswered. Just how many body blows he can take accusing him of being a liberal is a calculated decision Melancon needs to make before unleashing his attacks on Vitter. It’s the same strategy Muhammad Ali employed in the boxing ring, calling it the “Rope a Dope,” i.e., having his opponent exhaust his resources in the early rounds while he simply covered up and did not respond in kind.

Stay tuned folks: This one will make Rocky and Apollo Creed look like a juvenile Golden Gloves event.

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