It certainly didn’t take Vance McAllister long to make an impact on Washington, but … not the one he imagined. The Republican political neophyte won a special election for the open House seat in Louisiana’s 5th CD last November, having bagged a Duck Dynasty endorsement and bragged about his outsider cred by claiming that he’d never been to Washington at all. A month later, a security camera at his home-district office caught the married father of five “canoodling” with a staffer, also married — but not to McAllister. After the video leaked to a local newspaper, McAllister apologized to his constituents and asked for “privacy,” but the woman’s husband isn’t letting it go:
“I’m just freaking devastated by the whole deal, man. I loved my wife so much. I cannot believe this. I cannot freaking believe it. I feel like I’m going to wake up here in a minute and this is all going to be a bad nightmare,” Heath Peacock told CNN Tuesday. …
Heath Peacock said he didn’t know about the episode until Melissa called him a couple hours before the news broke.
“He has wrecked my life,” Peacock, 34, said of McAllister. “We’re headed for divorce.”
Heath and Melissa Peacock have been married for six years and have a 6-year-old son. …
McAllister, who is married with five children, issued a statement on Monday saying, “There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness. I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve.”
Heath Peacock noted that “he’s apologized to everyone in the world except me.”
McAllister may want his privacy, but he also wants to launch his re-election campaign:
McAllister told the Monroe News-Star newspaper that he’ll go ahead with his re-election campaign “unless there is an outcry for me not to serve, and so far there has been an outpouring of support, not for my actions, but for me to continue to represent the people.”
“If the people are willing to forgive me I’ll keep fighting. If there’s somebody more perfect than me who they support, it’s their will,” he said.
Keep fighting? So far, it looks like McAllister has mostly focused on himself. (On that point, McAllister also vowed not to resign.) However, the incumbent does have a couple of advantages in this situation. First, he represents Louisiana, where the entire state had no problem returning David Vitter to the US Senate despite his involvement in a 2007 prostitution scandal. That went a lot farther than “canoodling,” in a legal sense anyway, and yet Vitter won a second term in 2010. Vitter plans on running for governor in 2015, too.
The second advantage is that voters tend to forgive politicians who get caught canoodling, as long as canoodling is their only abuse of their office. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that while personal affairs can seriously impact approval ratings, voters react more strongly and with less forgiveness over abuses of power:
The independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University presented voters with a theoretical congressman – James Miller – whose “main concern in office is developing policies to help middle-class, working families.” Miller was described as 53, married, with two children.
While he is not identified as Republican or Democrat, 83 percent of voters have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of him, and 65 percent say they “definitely” or “probably” would vote for his reelection.
Some voters were told that Miller was “unfaithful to his wife with another woman.” Among those voters, only 36 percent have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion, with 58 percent “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable.” A total of 39 percent say they definitely or probably would vote for him, while 49 percent say they definitely or probably would not vote for him.
Another group of voters were told “Miller created a new, well-paid position on his staff in order to hire an unqualified family member as a favor.” In that group, 22 percent have a very or somewhat favorable view, with 75 percent somewhat or very unfavorable. Only 24 percent definitely or probably would vote for him, with 67 percent who definitely or probably would not.
So McAllister is in the clear, right? Maybe not:
Voters have less tolerance for Miller when hypocrisy is added as a factor in the sex scandal. In a scenario where a Miller priority is “promoting moral values,” and then the extramarital affair is mentioned, overall favorability drops to 25 percent, with 68 percent unfavorable. Only 28 percent say they are likely to vote for him, down from 39 percent in the neutral or non-hypocritical scenario.
I’m guessing that the brief interregnum between election and scandal — and the scandal and the next re-election effort — will make a difference, too. Vitter had been in office for more than two years before the DC Madam case broke into the open (and had served in the House for three terms before his Senate term), and he had another two-plus years before having to fight for his seat. That allowed Vitter to put the scandal far enough in the rear-view mirror to cruise to a 57/38 victory over Democrat Charlie Melancon. McAllister may not find the timing of this scandal propitious, even if it’s not quite as tawdry as Vitter’s.
Don’t be surprised to see Republicans looking for better options in LA-05, but … since it’s Louisiana, don’t be surprised if McAllister survives, either.