Full-Contact Campaigning (web only)

by Jeremy Alford

A seemingly debateless and increasingly monotonous U.S. Senate race took an interesting turn last week thank's to Lafayette's own Jesse Ventura doppelganger. By Jeremy Alford

If Nick Spitzer is Louisiana's answer to Garrison Keillor, then independent U.S. Senate candidate Mike Spears is certainly our retort to one-time Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.

They're both bald to a shine, for starters, both sport alpha-male facial hair and neither seems to mind stepping into the ring - figuratively and literally. Spears, a Web entrepreneur from Lafayette who launched his campaign on the back of the Tea Party movement, grabbed headlines statewide last week for nothing more than a witty press release.

In it, he challenged incumbent Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, to a "modern-day duel of honor," which of course translates to three rounds in a mixed martial arts cage fight. "I'm calling him out from behind the safety of his campaign fund, from the sanctuary of the Republican Party and the sanctuary of the special interests that fund his campaign," said Spears, adding that "this fight will symbolize the epic battle between the American people and an out of control, tyrannical federal government and the reckless politicians at the helm."

Congressman Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville who's considered to be Vitter's main challenger, wasn't invited to throw down in the cage fight, which Spears contends is on the bill - just in case Vitter mans up - for USA-MMA's "Return of the Champions" event at the Cajundome that's scheduled for Oct. 16.
That was last Wednesday, the second day in a row that Spears landed some free media for his dark horse candidacy. During a candidate's forum hosted by the Alliance for Good Government the preceding evening in New Orleans, Spears was responsible for the only mention of Vitter's ties to a D.C. prostitution ring - and his accusation that the senator "broke the law" yielded him at least a paragraph in news stories around the state.

After all of the bad political blood created during the past year, it must have created an interesting vibe to have Vitter and Melancon on the same stage. Vitter, in the end, won the alliance's endorsement, but the event itself remains as much of an issue as the topics that were discussed.

That's because Melancon has called for five televised debates. Vitter reportedly already has a few on the books, including a WWL-TV exchange and a Tea Party gathering. Melancon argues that Tea Party engagements, which would certainly have a conservative bent, shouldn't be counted.

Last week, The Advocate weighed in with an editorial asking the Senate frontrunners to participate in another debate being hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for a Better Louisiana. The Baton Rouge daily also endorsed Melancon's stance on the debates and denounced Vitter's reliance in the past on pre-screened questions at his own town hall gatherings. Vitter, meanwhile, has knocked Melancon's "new appreciation" for public debates, given the congressman's penchant for tele-conferenced town hall meetings.

In any public exchange, Vitter's media team will surely dread the mere mention of the D.C. prostitution ring that ensnared the senator in 2007. While it's old hat in Louisiana and not exactly the kryptonite Dems were hoping for, it's still not a subject that voters have heard much about directly from Vitter's mouth. Aside from admitting a "serious sin" on the issue three years ago, he's largely been absent on the issue.

That hasn't been missed by the Louisiana Democratic Party and is the main reason it has received so much coverage for its latest project: The site is home to a video with tens of thousands of views, done up like a cable real-life, behind-the-crime show - and just as visually jarring at times.

The party recently hit up supporters for individual $10 donations to sponsor ad buys for the video. In it's appeal, the party tells supporters that a "recent independent poll found that an astonishing number of likely voters in Louisiana are unaware that David Vitter admitted breaking the law but was never held accountable."

Vitter, for his part, will continue attacking Melancon as a closet liberal. He sent an email to backers over the Labor Day break that carried the same tune the candidate has been singing about his opponent since the race jumped off last year. "Charlie Melancon will be relying on the help of his liberal friends and union allies to try to hide the fact that he votes with President (Barack) Obama 84 percent of the time," Vitter writes.

With Vitter sitting on more than $5 million in his campaign kitty to Melancon's $2 million, Spears - who has just $4,000 - needs all the help he can get. His company, Firefly Digital, is doing a good bit of the campaign's design work and the candidate is personally writing his own copy and serving as the chief consultant and strategist as well, according to finance reports on file with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

But what Spears lacks in money he more than makes up for in backstory - he was a former varsity cheerleader at UL, did a tour in Operation Desert Storm with the Louisiana National Guard, was party to the technology wave that swept over Acadiana during the past decade and is currently developing an inter-district high tech school. Also, he evidently enjoys fighting in cages.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at [email protected]