Vitter confronts prostitution scandal in La. gov campaign’s final stretch

Republican David Vitter is taking an unconventional tack as he tries to close a significant polling gap ahead of next weekend’s Louisiana gubernatorial election – confronting his years-old prostitution scandal in TV ads blanketing the state.

The latest features "Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson, who casts the Louisiana senator’s story as one of redemption.

"I know he's made some mistakes, but who hasn't? The whole story of the Bible is about redemption. I'm concerned about our state," Robertson says, as he stands with Vitter in front of a vehicle.

The two-term senator is looking for a change-up in the race, a runoff between him and front-running Democratic candidate John Bel Edwards set for Nov. 21.

Vitter’s personal past has shadowed his run for governor, but exploded into the race when Edwards – a state representative and former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger – recently ran an ad contrasting his military service against Vitter’s dalliances.

Saying Vitter “answered a prostitute’s call minutes after he skipped a vote honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom,” the ad declares: “David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots.”

Vitter answered back Monday, addressing the elephant in the room with an ad of his own.

“Fifteen years ago, I failed my family, but found forgiveness and love,” he says in the ad. “I learned that our falls aren’t what define us, but rather how we get up, accept responsibility and earn redemption.”

He then vows to fight for a “better, stronger Louisiana.”

As a U.S. senator, Vitter apologized in 2007 for a "serious sin" after he was linked through phone records to Washington's "D.C. Madam." Though he was re-elected to the Senate in 2010, the scandal again has become a point of attack in his bid to become Louisiana governor.

Whether Vitter’s redemption message resonates will be known next weekend.

Robert E. Hogan, political science professor at Louisiana State University, said the fact Vitter went on air with these ads means the old scandal was hurting him.

“Normally a candidate of his caliber would be driving the race, not following it like it is in this case,” he told

Still, Hogan predicted, “I think the race will tighten up. ... Redemption is something that would appeal to voters of Louisiana—these are very religious people.”

Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar said the message indeed is resonating and they’re seeing an “incredibly positive” response.

He also told the Vitter ad released Monday was not a response to Edwards’ ad.

“That ad was done well before that,” he said. “We were going to be going with that ad Monday regardless.”

As for the week ahead, Bolar asserted voters are focusing on and questioning Edwards’ conservative credentials “the closer we get to the election.”

Vitter had started the election cycle as the favorite to follow term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal into office in January. His poll numbers fell, however, amid the revived talk of his prostitution scandal and a blistering primary battle with his Republican opponents.

Edwards has since taken the lead in a state that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 2008. A recent University of New Orleans poll showed Edwards with a 22-point lead among likely voters. A separate Hayride/MarblePort survey, though, showed Vitter pulling within 6 points.

Bolar called the UNO poll “way off” and suggested the new ads could make a difference.

After the latest “Duck Dynasty” ad, Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party said: "The governorship of Louisiana is not a reality TV show."

He noted the prostitution scandal and allegations a private investigator working for Vitter's campaign secretly filmed the Jefferson Parish sheriff and others.

"Louisiana has had enough of the antics," Handwerk said in a statement. "The choice for integrity and honesty is clear. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's probably David Vitter, who will say or do anything but tell the truth."

Members of the "Duck Dynasty" family have gotten involved in Louisiana politics before. They've showered kind words and support on term-limited Jindal, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination.

The 30-second Vitter spot featuring the “Duck Dynasty” star will be on television statewide by the weekend.’s Judson Berger and Ross Powers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.