Is Angelle driving a wedge between women and Vitter?

by Bob Mann

The new spot doesn’t allege that Vitter disrespects women; it merely points out that Angelle really, really does respect women. I mean, really. Even on Sundays.

What’s up with Scott Angelle’s new TV spot aimed directly at women voters?

Is the Republican Public Service Commissioner, who is running for Louisiana governor, really endorsing equal pay legislation or simply hoping to drive a wedge between women and Sen. David Vitter?

Or, is he attempting both?

Here’s the text of the 30-second TV spot that Angelle’s campaign is airing (you can watch it at this link). In the spot, narrated by the candidate, Angelle says:

With five sisters, three daughters and twin granddaughters, it should come as no surprise that I don’t view women as a special interest. I view them as America’s interest. I view them as Louisiana’s interest, with an absolutely deserving right to sit with an equal seat, in an equal chair, at every table, with equal pay, for equal work, all day, every day, Monday through Sunday.

It’s an impressive spot with a potentially potent message.

Yet, despite appearing to endorse equal pay legislation, I could find no record of Angelle discussing the issue in any venue in the past year. An extensive Internet search revealed nothing. I also found nothing about the issue on his campaign website (other than the link to the new spot).

That’s odd, because during the recent legislative session, lawmakers considered two different equal pay bills, SB 219, by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, and HB 219, by Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport. Neither bill became law, and neither drew the public support of Angelle.

I asked Angelle’s campaign manager, Ryan Cross, about his candidate’s position on equal pay and if Angelle backed one or both of the bills during the legislative session. Cross confirmed that Angelle did not endorse either bill.

Why was that? “Scott has been discussing equal pay in stump speeches since April,” Cross told me in an email on Monday. “As far as formal proposals, once elected, Scott wants to convene a group of business leaders (men and women), legislators, and other stakeholders related to this important issue to examine the specific holes in current law and ways to streamline reporting and ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.”

Cross said Angelle wants to avoid “a Pandora’s box as it relates to litigation, because he sees the focus of this issue as not a way for lawyers to get paid, but rather a way for women to be paid equally for equal work. Scott firmly believes that we can come to a solution that doesn’t harm Louisiana businesses but still achieves our goal of protecting women.”

Angelle’s media consultant, Roy Fletcher, who produced the spot, said he first heard Angelle make the remarks about equal pay in April before a gathering of several hundred women in Lafayette. Thus, the idea for the spot was born, Fletcher said.

So, let’s give Angelle the benefit of the doubt and accept that he favors equal pay for equal work (as he clearly states in his spot). If so, what might have prevented him from convening his group of legislators, business leaders and stakeholders last spring? Wouldn’t his proposal for equal pay have more heft and help him attract greater support from women if he put some specific proposals on the table before the election?

If Angelle won’t be developing a specific plan for equal pay before the October open primary, why is he talking about it gauzy, non-specific terms? (And, what the heck does he mean by “Monday through Sunday?” Women as priests?)

I’ll hazard some educated guesses.

First, it’s no secret that Vitter’s opponents hope to exploit his 2007 prostitution scandal. There’s already Gumbo PAC, chaired by Baton Rouge Democratic media consultant Trey Ourso, which is pushing a slick, two-and-a-half minute video that rehashes Vitter’s scandal.

And don’t expect Gumbo PAC to be the only player in the game of attacking Vitter over his sex scandal.

Angelle’s new spot, however, might show us how it’s possible to exploit Vitter’s past without explicitly referring to it. It doesn’t allege that Vitter disrespects women; it merely points out that Angelle really, really does respect women. I mean, really. Even on Sundays.

And there’s some evidence that suggest that spots, like Angelle’s, could diminish Vitter’s already shaky support among women.

This is where it’s useful to dive into the recent statewide survey released by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR).

In that survey of 800 likely voters, Vitter led his opponents – Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and Rep. John Bel Edwards – among women with 32 percent of that demographic. But he barely beats the 26 percent support by women for Edwards, the lone Democrat in the race. (Among women, Angelle stood last, at 5 percent.)

SMOR poll cross tabs (Courtesy of SMOR)
SMOR poll cross tabs (Courtesy of SMOR)

What’s more significant, however, is the large gender gap in Vitter’s numbers. The SMOR poll shows him with 47 percent of men – 15 points higher than his support among women.

Vitter’s gender gap was just as serious among white voters. At 39 percent, his support from women is 16 percent lower than his support among men.

Where the gender gap should be most alarming for Vitter is among Republican voters. While he earns 73 percent of the vote among white Republican men, the SMOR poll showed him with only 56 percent of Republican women – a gap of 17 points.

No other candidate has such a gender gap. Edwards’ female support is 4 points higher than his male support. Dardenne polls 2 points higher among women, while Angelle was a point lower among women.

If Vitter has a weakness in this election, it’s clearly among women voters. That goes a long way to explain the rationale and strategy behind Angelle’s spot. And you can expect to see more of these types of spots by Angelle, Edwards and Dardenne.

For his part, Fletcher, Angelle’s media consultant, insists his spot has nothing to do with Vitter. “Never was there a conversation about Vitter,” Fletcher told me. “It was all about the problem [of unequal pay].”

Regardless, it’s obvious this spot could be an effective way for Angelle to attract the votes of women who favor equal pay – that is, if Angelle actually had a specific proposal about how he might achieve equal pay for women. He doesn’t.

Until Angelle comes up with something more specific, forgive me for viewing the spot not as a serious policy proposal but as a potentially clever wedge issue aimed at David Vitter.