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Charlie Melancon and David Vitter have divergent strategies in Louisiana Senate race

Republican incumbent Sen. David Vitter has remained out of sight in his bid to win a second term, banking his hopes on Republican support, a vast cash advantage and a barrage of nationally-themed commercials. It is an approach that has infuriated his Democratic opponent.

"I would expect it to be hurting him more, but it is hurting him," she said, adding that she expected the gap to close. "When people are reminded and understand that he has been involved and closely connected to criminal activity -- I mean prostitution is not just a sin, it's a crime, you know?"

Landrieu walked into the next room and joined her brother onstage in the center of a packed ballroom, where they danced to "Who Dat" -- the Saints' Super Bowl anthem -- and restated their endorsements of Melancon. During the lunch break, Melancon worked the tables, decorated with pink balloons, and gabbed about growing up in a house full of women. Blanche Comiskey kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for making it to her 80th birthday party in New Orleans the week before. Unlike Vitter, she said, he was a man of "high moral caliber."

Melancon moved to the next table, and Comiskey offered her explanation of why Vitter still maintained a lead in the polls.

"Most people think he did not do anything wrong," Comiskey said. "This is the Big Easy. New Orleans is tolerant when it comes to moral slipups. But my daughter lives in Franklinton, and she says those Baptists out there will not tolerate it anymore."

A fair meet and greet

Melancon arrived at the Franklinton fair the next afternoon for a stop on his campaign's "Small Town Values" tour. Wearing blue jeans and brown boots, and with Peachy by his side, he introduced himself to just about anyone who passed.

"I like what you stand for," said Darlene Davis, a 65-year-old from Washington Parish, as she stopped him by the fair's entrance.

After he moved on, she said, "Vitter was okay" but added "the illicit affair, I can't get past that. I love the Lord. I know that God forgives our sins, but when you have a beautiful family and you do something like that to them, I just can't get past it."

Melancon talked to people about the spurs on his feet and his one-traffic-light home town. A former lobbyist for the American Sugar Cane League, he shouted "Y'all got some blue-ribbon cane" to men making syrup and "Y'all got the right idea" to people seated in the shade. He rubbed the heads of little kids and slapped men on the back. When people asked which party he belonged to, he carefully answered, "I'm a Louisiana Democrat. I'm pro-life, pro-gun. David Vitter doesn't even have a hunting license."

Melancon and his wife kept shaking hands and then stopped at a booth selling greasy bags of crackling. The owners invited Melancon to stir the pig fat in aluminum caldrons of boiling oil. A crowd gathered and Melancon laughed and then handed back the oar.

"Appreciate it," he shouted as he moved on, "Promise y'all I'll never embarrass you."


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