U.S. Senate Race Taking Shape
U.S. Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-Napoleonville) is taking a fresh look at challenging incumbent U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) next year. Previously, Melancon expressed reservations about entering the contest, but things have recently changed.

Melancon was initially elected to Congress in 2004 defeating Billy Tauzin, III the son of former Congressman Billy Tauzin, Jr. It was a hard fought and close election for Melancon, but since that time, it has become easier for the Congressman. In 2006, he won comfortably over Republican State Senator Craig Romero of New Iberia and in the last election he was unopposed.

If he runs for re-election in 2010, it will be different. Republicans have been increasing their efforts to lure a well funded and strong opponent to challenge Melancon next year. Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere predicted that the Republicans will find a formidable GOP candidate. State Representative Nickie Monica (R-LaPlace) has already indicated his interest in challenging Melancon. He has engaged in serious discussions with the National Republican Congressional Committee and has met with potential donors. Also former House Speaker Hunt Downer of Houma is looking at the race. Downer ran for Governor in 2003 and served for many years in the Louisiana Legislature. If Downer or Monica runs, Melancon would have a real fight on his hands to win re-election. In addition, redistricting will occur after the 2010 census and Melancon's district may be split into two adjoining districts.

Facing a potentially tough re-election battle and possible redistricting, Melancon has been looking at the Senate race with more interest. He may have more of a chance of defeating Senator Vitter in a statewide race than in winning re-election. Melancon promised a final decision within a few weeks. If Melancon runs for Senate, Louisiana Democrats would be overjoyed as many state party leaders have been trying for months to lure the Congressman into the race.

While Melancon contemplates his political future, Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard and former Congressman Chris John are also considering a U.S. Senate run. Despite several potential candidates but no definite commitments, State Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington promised the party will have a candidate by August.

On the Republican side, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and retiring State Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor are both contemplating challenging Vitter in the GOP primary. Former Congressman John Cooksey and former State Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell both declined to run and have endorsed Vitter for re-election.

Of all the potential Senate candidates, no one is more unusual than adult film actress Stormy Daniels. She is preparing for the second leg of her "listening tour" of Louisiana. Several weeks ago, she addressed members of the press and met with the public at stops in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. For her next tour, she will visit spots in the "western and northern parts of the state," according to Brian Welsh, an advisor to Daniels. Welsh said that Daniels will return to Louisiana next week for a number of engagements, and will be a panelist on the July 1 Politics with a Punch show. Currently, she is working on her memoirs, which will be titled "Storm Blazer: Stormy Daniels and the Issues of Responsibility."

Her book will include a strong focus on what Daniels calls her "Contract of Responsibility." She believes that taking personal responsibility is a way to reduce government involvement in the lives of Americans. Although Welsh noted that Daniels has a "libertarian streak," she is currently a registered Democrat. He said she may change her party registration if she officially enters the race for U.S. Senate. Welsh promised that Daniels would make a formal decision on the race "by the end of the summer."

Jeff Crouere is the Host of "Ringside Politics," which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. He is the Political Analyst for WGNO-TV ABC26 and a Columnist for selected publications. For more information, visit his web site at RingsidePolitics.com. E-mail him at jeff@ringsidepolitics.com.