Vitter, Melancon Take Primary Victories

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Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and his chief Democratic challenger, Rep. Charlie Melancon, easily won their party's primaries Saturday, setting up what will likely be a nasty battle for Vitter's job in the Nov. 2 general election.

In a victory speech Saturday night, Melancon called Vitter"hostile to women." He cited a Vitter vote against an equal-paylaw and news reports that Vitter had kept an aide who dealt withwomen's issues on his staff for two years after he was arrested fora violent attack on a woman.

Trailing Vitter in most recent surveys, Melancon called for theincumbent to debate him before the election and accused him ofavoiding forums where he can't control the questions.

Vitter's campaign didn't respond to a request for an interviewwith the senator and issued a statement continuing a major campaigntheme - that Melancon is too liberal.

" Louisiana voters will get to choose between the current Obamapolicies of endless bailouts, failed stimulus, massive debt, andgovernment-dominated health care, represented by Charlie Melancon,or the common sense conservative alternatives I've beenadvocating," it said.

Vitter campaign spokesman later said that Vitter has agreed todebate Melancon in late October at a New Orleans televisionstation.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Vitter had 84,645 votes,88 percent, in the Republican contest - in which only Republicanscould vote - against retired state Supreme Court Justice ChetTraylor with 7 percent and physician Nick Accardo with 5 percent.

Melancon had 73,730 votes, 70 percent of those cast, in theDemocratic primary, open to Democrats and independents, againstNeeson Chauvin, with 19 percent, and Cary Deaton, with 12 percent.

The Senate primary marked Vitter's first election since a 2007prostitution scandal and more recent questions about his judgmentin handling the employment of the aide.

Melancon and Vitter reach the Nov. 2 ballot with Randall ToddHayes, who defeated Anthony Gentile in the Libertarian Partyprimary, where Hayes had almost two thirds of more than 2,400 cast.There also will be nine other candidates - independents or membersof other parties - on Nov. 2.

Primaries also were held in four of the state's sevencongressional districts. Key races were in the New Orleans-based2nd District and in southeastern Louisiana's 3rd District, whereMelancon was relinquishing his seat to challenge Vitter.

In the 2nd District, state Rep. Cedric Richmond easily won theDemocratic primary over three other candidates - veteran politicalfigure Eugene Green, newcomer Gary Johnson and state Rep. JuanLafonta. Richmond will try to unseat incumbent Anh "Joseph" Caoin November. All four candidates are African-Americans running in amostly black, mostly Democratic district where Cao's victory twoyears ago surprised many. Cao, unopposed for the Republicannomination, defeated longtime Rep. William Jefferson. Jefferson wasunder indictment at the time and later was convicted on federalcorruption charges.

In the 3rd District Republican primary, a nasty contestdeveloped between New Iberia lawyer Jeff Landry and former stateHouse Speaker Hunt Downer of Houma, who are headed for an Oct. 2runoff. Landry barely missed an outright victory with just under 50percent of the vote. Downer had 36 percent. Kristian Magar, an oilfield manager from New Iberia, placed a distant third. The loneDemocratic candidate is Ravi Sangisetty.

"I started with nothing 90 days ago. Mr. Landry's been outthere over a year campaigning, and he outspent us," Downer saidlate Saturday. "We're looking forward to the next 30 days. Weclosed the gap, and we'll continue to do so."

Despite an intense exchange of attacks in the days leading up tothe primary, both Landry and Downer said they want to focus onissues as they continue their campaigns.

"I have always believed that this race has been about theissues: jobs, the economy, getting the country back on track,"Landry said.

Despite the big story lines - Vitter's scandals, the nastinessbetween Landry and Downer, questions about black political strengthin post-Katrina New Orleans - there appeared to be little interestin the election. With most precincts in Saturday night, fewer than205,000 votes had been cast in the statewide primaries. Thre aremore than 2.9 million registered voters in the state.

In other races, Democrat David Melville defeated Steven Gavi andwill face U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican seeking his secondterm in office in the 4th District.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander easily defeated his Republicanopponent in the 5th District primary; Todd Slavant, had littlemoney to mount a campaign against the four-term congressman fromQuitman.

Several of the races centered around accusations of scandals andother issues.

Vitter had more than $5 million on hand, the support of stateGOP leaders and strong poll numbers. His steadfast opposition toPresident Barack Obama played well with the GOP's conservativebase, which was expected to deliver for him.

Traylor, a last-minute entry in the primary, had offered himselfas a scandal-free alternative to Vitter. However, he was quicklydogged by questions about his own love life. His wife, who diedlast year, was once married to a state legislator, who recentlyaccused Traylor of contributing to their breakup.

In the 2nd District, Richmond raised the most money and wasendorsed by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. But he, too, hadproblems, including the fact that the state Supreme Court oncesuspended his law license for two months, saying he had swornfalsely to the certain city council district where he lived when hesigned up to run for a council seat in 2005.

Disputes between Landry and Downer in the 3rd District centeredon military service, legal entanglements and tax votes.

The accusations were among the only distinctions among the threeGOP candidates, who offered largely similar rhetoric. They alliedthemselves with tea party beliefs, blasted federal spending levelsand objected to nearly anything proposed or passed by PresidentBarack Obama in their bid to gain Republican votes.

Downer began the race with the most name recognition. He hadspent 28 years in the Louisiana House and retired as a majorgeneral in the Louisiana National Guard. But he was lambasted bysome Republicans because he was a Democrat until 2001 and worked asa legislative lobbyist for former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blancoafter he switched to the GOP.

Landry and Magar have never held public office, though Landrynarrowly lost a state Senate seat in 2007 and before that worked asan aide to a former state senator from New Iberia.

No primaries were needed in the 1st District representingseveral suburbs of New Orleans or the Baton Rouge-based 6thDistrict. The two incumbent Republican congressmen, Steve Scaliseof Metairie and Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, each attractedlittle-known Democratic challengers who have done littlefundraising for the general election so far. Scalise also picked upa second challenger not affiliated with either party for theNovember election.

In Louisiana's 7th District, representing southwest Louisianaincluding Lake Charles and Lafayette, Republican U.S. Rep. CharlesBoustany didn't attract a challenger and advanced to a fourth termwithout an election.

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