Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana officially announced Tuesday that he is running for governor in 2015.
"After much prayer, thought, and discussion with Wendy and our children, I have decided to run for governor of Louisiana in 2015," Vitter said in his video announcement. "Let me first assure you that this decision will in no way limit the critical work I'm doing today in the U.S. Senate—representing you and your family will continue to be my top priority, but I believe as our next governor I can have a bigger impact addressing the unique challenges and problems we face in Louisiana."
Vitter, first elected to the House in 1999 in a special election and then to the Senate in 2004, would otherwise be up for reelection in 2016. In 2007, he was caught up in the "D.C. Madam" prostitution scandal, but he went on to win reelection in 2010.
Current Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is term-limited and has been floated as a possible candidate for the 2016 presidential race.
Vitter's intentions to run for governor have been no secret, from Louisiana to the Senate chamber, as his Obamacare-related proposals have been viewed through a political lens. In recent months, he has blocked and delayed votes on unrelated bills in order to secure a vote on the so-called Vitter Amendment, which requires lawmakers and their staff to purchase insurance on Obamacare exchanges while not getting the subsidies they would normally receive for federal health insurance.
"He can keep pushing this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in September 2013. "Maybe it'll help him get elected governor, which in my mind, wouldn't be a bad deal, if you know what I mean."
Such moves by Vitter haven't endeared him to his Senate colleagues, and aside from Obamacare-related proposals, he's remained mostly out of the spotlight, and he's known for avoiding the press on Capitol Hill.
Vitter's focus on Obamacare and the president is unsurprisingly well received back home. Louisiana GOP consultant Roy Fletcher said he is "playing to the outside of Congress, which is smart."
His official entry into the race comes more than a year before Election Day. "The question becomes, did Vitter clear the field? I think that's what's running here, is that he's trying to develop a scenario of inevitability," Fletcher said.
So far, the field is not a clear one. He will face Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and possibly state Treasurer John Kennedy in a primary. As for Democrats, state Rep. John Bel Edwards is running, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is mulling a run.
Democrats in Louisiana are already trying to tie Vitter to Washington dysfunction. "David Vitter as governor would mean more of the shutdown-style politics that Republicans have perfected in D.C., and there has been no bigger failure in the U.S. Senate than David Vitter," state Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson said.
In the 2009-14 cycle, Vitter's campaign committee raised $11 million, and as of September 2013 had $963,255 cash on hand. A super PAC that supports Vitter reportedly raised $1.5 million in 2013, with the founder set to argue before the state's Board of Ethics next week against the state contribution limits of $100,000.
If Vitter loses, he won't have to vacate his Senate seat. But if elected as governor, he will still have influence in the Senate. Longtime Vitter aide Joel DiGrado is running Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy's campaign against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is up for reelection in 2014. And if there is an open seat in 2015, "The governor gets to choose the United States Senator, and you get a trifecta," Fletcher said. "That's very, very powerful."
This article appears in the January 22, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.