“He had enough time between when this event became public and when he had to stand for reelection, he was able to convince voters that he had changed,” added Perkins. “People make mistakes, but its whether or not we recognize we made a mistake” that’s the issue.
Vitter was first elected to the Senate in 2004 as a family values conservative. In 2007, though, his career was marred after his telephone number appeared in the phone records of the "D.C. Madam." He issued a statement apologizing for committing a "serious sin," but he has never elaborated.
Vitter, who estimates he’s held some 200 town-hall events during the last six years, said voters haven’t ask him to say more.
"I think Louisiana citizens all around the state heard me, and I think they understood me. They understood what I was saying,” he said during the campaign’s second debate Oct. 28.
After his admission, Vitter said he got an "outpouring" of prayers, which he called "humbling."
Perkins said he and Vitter spoke after D.C. Madam news broke.
“He left me convinced that I should give him another chance,” he said. “He certainly has not changed his positions. If anything, he’s gotten stronger and more resolute in his firm conservative stance.”
If Perkins had felt differently, he might have entered the GOP primary against Vitter.
“I was actually recruited to run against him,” Perkins said. “There were people wanting me to run against him. And I, for a brief time, was contemplating it.”
Instead of facing Perkins or another formidable primary challenger this year, as some observers expected, Vitter faced nominal opposition and cruised to the nomination.
“David’s addressed his personal issues,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), an ally of the senator. “Ultimately, I think people are judging him on the job he’s done in Washington, and he’s been very effective in opposing liberal policies that are detrimental to Louisiana.”
Vitter voted against healthcare and financial reform. He even opposed the Wall Street bailout in 2008, which was pushed by the Bush administration. As Vitter positioned himself as a staunch opponent of President Obama, he was also able to gain unlikely allies such as the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The group ran a TV ad in Louisiana saying Vitter had "the character to fight cruelty." Vitter's legislative record gave Melancon little ammunition except the senator’s personal issues.
“It comes down to who’s doing the best job of fighting for Louisiana, and I think David’s done very well there,” Scalise said.
Vitter’s Senate career will extend another term. But should another scandal emerge, it could be politically fatal, according to Perkins. “You only get one chance. If he does it again, he’s gone. There’s just no question.”