Rep. Melancon makes Senate bid official

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) announced Thursday that he will run against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in 2010.

In a web video , Melancon emphasized his centrist and conservative credentials in a state that has gone to the right even in recent years.

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“I'm a pro-life, pro-gun, Southern Democrat,” he said. “I have an ‘A’ rating with the NRA, and I have been an avid hunter and fisherman my entire life. I am a proud centrist – a Blue Dog – a straight-up-the-middle fighter for the little guy who is struggling to make ends meet.”

The congressman has been expected to make the bid ever since he said in June that he was looking at the race. However, he wouldn’t confirm a report at the time that said he had decided to run, and he has been quiet ever since.

Melancon occupies one of the most tenuous Democratic House districts in the country, and his candidacy gives Democrats what is perhaps their top potential recruit for the Senate race.

Vitter’s race was put on the map in 2007 when the senator acknowledged committing “a very serious sin” with a prostitute. National and local Democrats have been making an issue of Vitter’s foibles ever since, but, until now, they lacked a candidate to potentially take advantage.

Melancon hasn’t been outspoken about the ethical issues, but he did emphasize honesty in his announcement.

“I'm announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate to replace David Vitter because Louisiana deserves better,” he said in the web video. “Louisiana needs a different approach. More bipartisan. More disciplined. More honest, and with a whole lot more common sense.”

Vitter’s approval ratings have been decent, but his support appears somewhat soft, with many apparently ready to entertain alternatives.

Still, he has significant leads in early polling. Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed Vitter up 44-32 last month, and a March Research 2000 poll for the liberal web site DailyKos had Vitter leading 48-41.

Melancon is unknown to many Louisiana voters, but he has the kind of centrist record they needed for a state that drifted right even as the country went left. Even as Democrats made big gains in 2008, Republicans took two Louisiana House seats and won another battleground open seat. Melancon’s is the only congressional district in the state that is held by Democrats.

Republicans emphasized Melancon’s ties with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a well-known liberal.

“Whether he’s championing President Obama’s bloated spending agenda, supporting Nancy Pelosi’s job-killing card check legislation, or voting hand-in-hand with the Democrats in Washington 93 percent of the time in 2008, Charlie Melancon has clearly demonstrated that he is not in touch with the issues that are important to the people of Louisiana,” said a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Amber Wilkerson.

Melancon’s reelection was uncontested in 2008 but he would likely have faced a strong challenge in 2010 and also faced the possibility of losing his district to reapportionment next cycle.

His exit will leave an open seat in which Republicans will likely be favored for the takeover. The district went 61-37 for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election, making it one of the most conservative held by a Democrat.

-- This article was posted at 10:50 a.m. and updated at 11:15 a.m.