The Independent Staff

Peep Goat: Does Specter switch make Vitter more expendable?

For months now, U.S. Sen. David Vitter has travelled the state pushing the message that he should be re-elected because his defeat would possibly give Democrats the 60th vote they need for a filibuster-proof majority (as it stood at 58 after the elections) if Democrat Al Franken were to prevail in the Minnesota recount versus Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

Lightning has struck not once, but twice, since then. Not only did the Minnesota Supreme Court certify comedian Franken as the winner (yes, Coleman’s place in history will be that he lost to Al Franken), but yesterday's party switch by 29-year Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to Democrat now negates Vitter’s “boogie-man” strategy. Vitter no longer can claim he is the “only thing standing between the Democrats and a filibuster-proof majority.” Note to advertising team: time to go back to the drawing board.

The intriguing thought to consider is whether it now frees up the national Republican Party (since it no longer needs to protect a razor-thin one vote filibuster proof margin) to clean up the Vitter mess by throwing him under the bus in the 2010 Republican Primary in favor of Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.

Vitter’s sex scandal will clearly dog him the remaining days of his political life, just as the Republican Party is desperately seeking to redefine itself, its image and its values (Jindal’s State of the Union response and keynote address to the Republican Congressional Committee Dinner are prime examples). Republicans both in state and out may see this as a good time to rid themselves of the albatross that Vitter has become to the party — particularly among Republican female voters. Sources close to Dardenne indicate he is more than just casually considering it. One close ally of Dardenne had this to say, before the Specter party switch occurred: “Jay is very seriously considering it. Very Seriously. His only apprehension is whether he wants to commit to a tenure in federal politics versus state government.”

The affable and easygoing Dardenne would presumably draw upon a considerable network of current and former legislators statewide should he mount a primary challenge to Vitter. A warchest of $6 million to $8 million minimum would be necessary, so expect to hear a decision from Dardenne no later than the fall, a little over a year from election day. The interim summer period before an anouncement is made by Dardenne will make a Vitter sweat a little more than the rest of us this summer.