by Kevin Allman
MEET THE CANDIDATE
With a profile thats been more private than public lately, Congressman Charlie Melancon is campaigning to be your next U.S. senator
By JEREMY ALFORD
Charlie Melancon may be the first major political candidate from Louisiana to announce a bid for office from his own dining room table. That all of his supporters, the states media and other political onlookers were able to fit into his charming Napoleonville home was even more remarkable. But that, as they say, is the magic of the Internet.
Last week, Melancon told the world he would challenge U.S. Sen. David Vitter by email. The message, though, also provided a link to a YouTube video posted on his campaigns site.
Click. (Cue piano) Hello. My name is Charlie Melancon. I'm a businessman, who's been an ambassador for our state's sugar industry and I've owned and run several successful businesses. I'm a proud family man, the father of two great children, and Peachy and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary just last week.
Peachy didnt enter the frame with a tray of fried catfish or Natchitoches meat pies, but it would have been a nice touch. The video, however, does play into the image of detached U.S. congressman whos ducking town hall meetings, a portrayal thats been floated by Melancons conservative opposition and anyone else generally paying attention.
In comparison, Sen. David Vitter, the Republican from Metairie that Melancon will face on the fall 2010 ballot, is in the trenches and holding town hall meetings and, more importantly, answering, although most times indirectly, questions about his connection to a Beltway-based prostitution ring that was run by a madam who killed herself last year....
Congress is presently in its most volatile recess in recent history, what with a contentious health care debate brewing and the universe reportedly on the cusp of financial ruin. Melancon has held town hall meetings in the past regularly, but has only offered up a telephone town hall meetings to voters this summer, by where they have to dial in to participate.
Melancon has every right to be weary of town hall meetings, at least politically. Earlier this year, The Daily Iberian reported on a contentious meeting where Melancon took considerable heat from his constituents: U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon took a beating from a crowd of fiery residents Thursday night as he defended his recent voting record on several bills in Congress including the economic stimulus package, corporate bailouts and the federal budget.
Heres another account, just last week, from The Houma Courier: More than 200 people protested proposals for national health-care reform [in front of Melancons district office and] there were chants of We want Charlie, Chicken Charlie and Where is Charlie? Robin Winchell, Melancons D.C. spokesperson, says the congressman was never informed of or invited to the event.
Winchell also issued a prepared statement from Melancon, which in part explained, This August, I have been driving around south Louisiana, attending dozens of public events and meeting people where they are at festivals, Rotary Club meetings, schools, and community centers and listening to what they have to say. Information obtained from Melancons scheduler confirmed such events and several more, practically on a daily basis the entire recess.
Nonetheless, Melancons opponents are already beating the drum and calling him an absent candidate, charges that even Gov. Bobby Jindal couldnt duck during his quiet revolution of 2007 and that was at the peak of Jindal's popularity. If the town hall meetings being held, and not held, right now are having any impact at all, theyre boosting Vitters image and energizing his base.
As such, its difficult not to see how a different strategy would be more beneficial to Melancon. Louisianas electorate, not to mention the states traditional Democratic base, needed to see Melancon announce in public, on a sunny August day with as many bodies as possible. Hes no longer an incumbent, and shouldnt act like one.
Vitter has been drawing blood at his own town hall meetings for weeks and the Web announcement by Melancon just sounds like more silence, which can be deadly in a statewide race. Just ask refer back to Jindal once more; he may be into his second term already if he had hit back harder against volleys from former Gov. Kathleen Blanco during the 2003 election.
If its a strategy at all, its only short term. Sources close to both campaigns suggest the mud could start flying as early as September, when lawmakers reconvene work in Washington. To be certain, Vitter has had his own public meeting problems. Last week, he was asked not to address a Tea Party event in Metairie he had partly billed as his own.
But thats probably small potatoes compared to what Democrats have in store for Vitter. The subtext in Melancons announcement speech further suggested that hell be willing to hit Vitter where it hurts. After all, a family man, as Melancon calls himself in the video press release, would never do the things Vitter has.
Its a message that youre going to hear a lot more of. Louisiana needs a different approach, Melancon says in the video. More bi-partisan. More disciplined. More honest and with a whole lot more common sense.