Recalling the effort to draft Stormy Daniels to run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana

Good morning Austin:

It was nine years ago Thursday that I first became aware of the seriousness of the effort to  recruit Stormy Daniels to run against Republican incumbent David Vitter for the U.S. Senate from Louisiana. I was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times Picayune and I was at the Washington Hilton for the opening night of what is called Washington Mardi Gras.

As I explained in an advance in that day’s paper:

WASHINGTON — The revelry of Washington Mardi Gras begins tonight at the Washington Hilton.

Physically, the Hilton is at the intersection of Connecticut and Florida avenues. Metaphysically, the Washington Mardi Gras is at the crossroads of what people like about Louisiana and what they don’t like about Washington, a long weekend bacchanal that unfolds in the twilight glow of good times and ethical questions.

For three days and nights, Washington lawmakers and lobbyists and Louisiana movers and shakers make merry — at a Thursday night party “free” to those fortunate enough to score a coveted wristband, at a $150-per-person Friday night dinner dance and at a $200-a-head Mystick Krewe of Louisianians Ball.

The Mystick Krewe, the governing authority of Washington Mardi Gras, decides who can buy tickets to the dinner and ball. Another group, Louisiana Alive!, run by Wayne Smith, a Washington lobbyist and former chief of staff to Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, distributes the wristbands to corporate sponsors, krewe members and congressional staff.

In a new age of ethical transparency, Mystick Krewe and Washington Alive!, both private organizations, are opaque. The Mystick Krewe was created by Sen. Russell Long in the 1950s to take over responsibility for Washington Mardi Gras. Its membership includes all the members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, who take turns chairing the annual event. This year the honor belongs to Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

I did not have a “coveted wristband” that night, so I simply planted myself at the bar to watch the comings and goings, which included the official debut of the effort to draft Daniels to challenge Vitter, who had confessed to having sinned sexually, for re-election in 2010.

Here is the release that went out that day.

DraftStormy Storms DC Mardi Gras January 29, 2009

Washington DC—Against the backdrop of the annual Washington Mardis Gras, DraftStormy, a non-partisan grassroots movement to draft Baton Rouge native Stormy Daniels into the 2010 Louisiana Senate race, celebrated its official launch on Thursday.

To commemorate the launch, DC Mardis Gras attendees were greeted Thursday morning with a complimentary string of Mardis Gras beads featuring the soon-to-be iconic DraftStormy logo in metallic pink on a white medallion. Hours before, the official DraftStormy website went live.

Inviting Louisianans and Americans to “Join the Storm” the website features a petition page along with an extensive overview of Stormy Daniels and her qualifications to tackle some of the biggest issues facing both the Pelican State and the nation in general.

For example, a section titled, “It’s the Economy, Sexy,” examines how the current economic crisis is impacting all sectors of the economy including the adult entertainment industry.

 

Back in the fall, the draft effort had gone on Craigslist in search of a porn star to take on the challenge.

Seeking a female candidate to challenge David Vitter in the Republican primary for the United States Senate in 2010. Candidate must be over 30 years old and a registered Republican in the state of Louisiana. Beyond this, we are looking for a candidate with a history in some aspect of the adult entertainment industry who has taken the benefit of that experience both monetarily and otherwise and translated it into success in their later career.

Candidate will have the benefit of an experienced campaign staff, including finance and media teams. Reasonable compensation as allowed by federal campaign finance rules will be offered. This is a serious offer for a serious candidate who cares about the direction of her state and community and who is willing to accept the serious commitment of a statewide political campaign.

Please forward a résumé or CV with contact information along with a 200-word description telling us who you are and why you think you are the ideal candidate to challenge David Vitter.

In late January,  Christopher Tidmore of Louisiana Weekly reported that they had found their woman.

 

Several months ago, a curious ad went on the Internet swapshop page searching for a registered Republican woman with experience in some area of adult entertainment that would be willing to run against Vitter in the 2010 Republican Senatorial primary. It was a blatant attempt to dredge up media attention on the Senator’s past trysts with prostitutes for public view, both as a State Representative and later as a Congressman.

At first, many observers considered the ad a joke, yet indications came that the postings promises of financial compensation for a porn actress or exotic dancer to challenge Vitter were serious. Insiders within the Democratic Party began to admit that some senior members of the party were behind the plot. Sources within the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) began to express their approval and complicity with the idea.

Then, late on January 19, 2008, this posting was added to Craigslist, “Seeking Energetic Field Organizers for Senate Campaign (New Orleans)…After an exhaustive review process, we are announcing that we are no longer accepting applications for a female candidate with a history in the adult entertainment industry to challenge Senator Vitter. We want to thank all the talented candidates who applied and endured through our rigorous application process. We furthermore apologize for any inconveniences the applications or interviews may have caused. We are certain many of you will go on to achieve long and accomplished careers in public service, and wish you well in your future endeavors.”

The posting continued, “An announcement pertaining to the final results of our selection process is forthcoming. We are, however, now accepting applications for energetic and personable field organizers for our grassroots campaign. Past or current affiliation with a political party is unimportant, this is a bipartisan effort of civic-minded citizens with a desire to change Louisiana and the nation.”

Organizers, the ad went on, should be at least 18 years old with two years of campaign experience, or put another way, WE HAVE FOUND OUR PORN STAR, AND SHE NEEDS A STAFF.

 

Within a couple of weeks of Washington Mardi Gras, I had a telephone interview with Daniels.  From Feb. 13, 2009.

WASHINGTON — Sen. David Vitter, R-La., whose phone calls to a prostitution ring were exposed by an investigator for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, now faces a potential Senate challenge from adult film star Stormy Daniels, who has asked Flynt to run her campaign.

In a telephone interview Thursday from Tampa, Fla., Daniels said that while Flynt had nothing to do with the “Draft Stormy” boomlet that has drawn her into contemplating the 2010 Louisiana Senate race, “I have reached out to him in the last couple of days that I want to discuss if he wants to be my campaign manager.”

“Oh my goodness, I can’t wait to see those brochures,” said Hastings Wyman, founding editor of the Southern Political Report, which tracks campaigns across the South. Of Vitter, Wyman said, “He can’t be pleased.”

Vitter’s office offered no comment.

Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge, said she has not been able to reach Flynt, who is at an adult entertainment trade conference in Woodland Hills, Calif., this week.

It was Dan Moldea, an investigative author working for Flynt, who in the summer of 2007 found Vitter’s number on the 2001 phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Palfrey, who was later found guilty of racketeering and money laundering, committed suicide in May while awaiting sentencing.

It also was Flynt who, on the eve of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, said he had information about then-Rep. Bob Livingston’s extramarital affairs, leading Livingston, who was then speaker-elect of the House, to announce he was going to step down. He was succeeded in the 1st Congressional District by Vitter.

Daniels’ interest in Vitter’s seat was spurred by a low-budget movement started by a University of New Orleans political science student.

Zach Hudson, 22, of Metairie said that a few months ago, he and his friends placed an ad on Craigslist seeking an adult entertainer to run against Vitter. There were no takers, but he said he was alerted to Daniels, a contract actress, writer and director with Wicked Pictures, who posts comments occasionally on an LSU fan site.

Hudson said he has never talked to Daniels and that while he has volunteered on some local Democratic campaigns, including doing press work for Shawn Barney in his unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat last year, he is not tied to the Democratic Party in any way.

“The Louisiana Democratic Party is not affiliated with the ‘Draft Stormy’ initiative — that movement is a nonpartisan, grass-roots effort,” said Scott Jordan, a spokesman for the state party.

Daniels said she was initially wary of “Draft Stormy,” but then flattered, and when she announced she was thinking about a candidacy — including a Louisiana ‘listening tour’ — it spread like wildfire across the media landscape: CNN, a Politico Podcast, Jay Leno’s monologue, and so on.

By Thursday, Hudson said the Web site had received about 180,000 hits.

The Daniels campaign is clearly intended to mock and embarrass Vitter.

Daniels enters the scene just as Vitter has appeared to regain his footing on Capitol Hill and as a favorite for re-election.

In an interview Sunday on C-Span, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that although “Sen. Vitter made a very serious mistake, which he’s admitted, and he has apologized for . . . I do not think Sen. Vitter is in any trouble, but that’s not by accident. It’s because he is working very hard and going to be very well prepared for whatever comes at him.”

Daniels’ publicity could prove a distraction for Vitter. “At least in the short term, she’s a real problem,” said LSU political scientist Kirby Goidel. In the long term, probably not, said Goidel, while cautioning, “if Jesse Ventura can win in Minnesota, why can’t she win in Louisiana?”

Daniels, 29, is a 1997 graduate of Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge. Her first name is really Stephanie, but she declined to reveal her actual last name. She said she is legally changing her name to Stormy Daniels.

She said if she runs, she is not sure whether she would do so as a Democrat or Independent, and might well not run at all rather than risk siphoning votes from a more qualified Vitter opponent. “I wouldn’t want to inadvertently help the person I am trying to stop,” she said.

Aside from assailing Vitter for “hypocrisy,” Daniels said she would press her pet causes: safe sex and eliminating sexually explicit images of children from the Internet. She hopes to be in New Orleans for three weeks this spring filming a non-adult horror movie about the Cajun werewolf that she is writing, directing and producing.

The plot: “Five years after Hurricane Katrina, some environmental students go down to the swamp to study the lasting effects of the hurricane, and they don’t make it back.”

In early May, 2009, my Times-Picayune colleague, Bruce Alpert, and I reported that, just like Hillary Clinton did when she was deciding whether to run for the New York Senate, Daniels would embark on a “listening tour” of the state.

She’s back and she’s ready to listen. Veteran porn star, and political novice, Stormy Daniels is returning to her native Louisiana next week to kick off her “listening tour” as she ponders whether to keep her clothes on and run for the Senate against Republican incumbent David Vitter, who is up for reelection next year. Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge, will kick off her listening tour with a lunch stop at The Roux House in her hometown Tuesday at noon. On Wednesday at noon, she will be at Serio’s Po’ Boys & Deli on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

The Times-Picayune’s incomparable columnist Chris Rose reported on Daniels’ first stop on May 7, 2009.

Po-boy shop serves up a porn star for lunch

The sign on the door to Serio’s Po Boys in the CBD Wednesday morning said: “Storm Warning at Noon.” It was the only official notice to customers that business would not quite be usual.

The occasion was the second stop on the “listening tour” — her words, not mine — of Stormy Daniels, the as-yet undeclared candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by David Vitter.

Daniels is not your run-of-the-mill politician, no party mouthpiece in a suit, no policy-leaden talking head, she. Daniels — of no stated political party — is a star of, as her website attests, “the adult entertainment industry.”

You might know it by its other name: Porn.

But don’t take Stormy for a dumb blonde. Draftstormy.com points out that she not only performs porn, but she also writes — and directs! — as well. She was also, it should be noted, the president of her 4-H club in high school back in Baton Rouge.

And, as previously stated, she is on a listening tour of south Louisiana, “a conversation with the citizens of Louisiana” about “the ongoing struggles they face in these troubled economic times.” And nothing gets a downtown diner more charged up than a populist porn star and thus it was that Serio’s was packed.

When I walked in to check out the scene, my eyes came to rest on the two biggest meatballs I have ever seen in my life. No, I’m serious. Have you ever seen Serio’s spaghetti plate? Meatballs like Volkswagens. These guys, they know how to meet a man’s appetite.

As for Stormy, she carries an impressive carriage herself. She handled the assembled press, gawkers and lunch-bucket Joe’s with casual aplomb. If the whole point of her “listening tour” — the sum total of which was the stop at Serio’s and a similar event Tuesday in Baton Rouge — is to keep the pokes in the eye coming at Vitter, it seems to be working.

There was plenty of media on hand to trumpet the occasion and my gracious colleagues from both WWL and Gambit actually asked policy questions. And they asked about Vitter whom, you may remember, had a little “family values” issue a while back — and whoever the money is behind Stormy wants to make sure none of us forget it.

When given the opportunity to speak to Stormy, I demurred. The meatballs had made me hungry as hell. And I did not feel that I could top the very astute political commentary offered by the renown historian, John Barry — author of “Rising Tide” and “The Great Influenza” — who was also in attendance (he happens to be a Serio’s regular) and observed: “She has done something I never saw a politician do before.”

Many things came to my mind. I forgot all about the meatballs. And Barry finally explained: “She showed up on time.”

Proprietor Mike Serio was the gadfly of the moment, reveling in the in-house insanity, flashbulbs popping and a throng of hungry guys lining up at the lunch counter with mischievous smiles and open wallets.

“Truth is, I’m a Vitter fan,” Serio said. “But I’m open to suggestions. And all I can say is that she’s been a very good stimulus package for me.”

The AP’s Kevin McGill caught her afternoon stop that May day in Baton Rouge:

BATON ROUGE — Stormy Daniels strode onstage at a downtown Baton Rouge restaurant in a tight black blouse with a plunging neckline and a knee-length skirt in the popular purple of Louisiana State University. She introduced herself with a warning.

“For those of you who don’t know who I am,” she told the lunch crowd at The Roux House, “I’d suggest that you don’t Google that until you get home from work.”

She’s a Louisiana-born porn star who says she is considering a 2010 run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican David Vitter, whose family-values reputation was marred in 2007 when his name was linked to a Washington prostitution ring.

Daniels, 30, insists she’s serious. She’s spending her own money on a “listening tour” to hear what people have to say as she considers a possible run, and said she isn’t just starting a publicity stunt to promote her work or embarrass Vitter. However, she said she hasn’t lived in Louisiana for seven years — she currently resides in Florida — and would need to re-establish residency to run.

She sprinkled her presentation Tuesday with the occasional joke (“If you get any closer you’re going to have to start tipping me,” she told a crowd of reporters and photographers) but she kept the topics serious.

Daniels’ platform contains a few issues she probably has professional knowledge of — backing efforts to remove child pornography from the Internet and keeping minors from viewing adult material — as well as the bread-and-butter issues of many other candidates: Support for a national sales tax to replace the income tax and pushing to get troops home sooner from Iraq.

She doesn’t want to take questions about Vitter. “I think it’s about time David Vitter started answering David Vitter questions,” she said.

Vitter has steadfastly refused to discuss the “serious sin” he confessed to after his phone number was linked to Deborah Palfrey, the so-called “D.C. Madam” who committed suicide as she faced prison time for running a prostitution ring that catered to the powerful. His office declined to comment Wednesday on Daniels’ possible candidacy.

Vitter, 48, kept a low profile in the months after his scandal broke but has emerged as a chief critic of government bailouts and President Barack Obama’s spending plans — popular stands in a state that went solidly for Republican John McCain in last year’s presidential election.

He also has been aggressively fundraising, amassing $2.5 million in campaign funds for what will be his first re-election attempt since the Palfrey scandal broke. He won the Senate seat for the first time in 2004, spending more than $7 million to defeat four major opponents for the open position.

Noting Vitter’s solid conservative stances and his healthy campaign account, Ed Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, doesn’t think a Daniels candidacy would do much damage.

“It’s probably going to be fairly easy for him to ignore her,” he said.

“What it really shows is the lack of any real credible Democratic challenger,” he added.

Pollster and political consultant Bernie Pinsonat agreed. But he said a possible Daniels’ candidacy could be a distraction if Vitter is challenged in next year’s Republican primary.

“Is she a threat to beat him? No. Is she really going to run? I seriously doubt it,” Pinsonat said. “But if I had my druthers and I was running the campaign of David Vitter, I would rather she not be there.”

Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne has expressed interest in the GOP primary. Others reportedly considering a run are retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, a Republican; and state Sen. Eric LaFleur and Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard, both Democrats. Nobody has announced.

If nothing else, a Daniels candidacy could bring color to the Senate campaign the way adult film star Mary Carey did as a candidate for governor in California’s 2003 recall race, which Arnold Schwarzenegger won. And Daniels could restore the spectacle missing from Louisiana politics since the unabashed gambler, reputed womanizer and now-felon Edwin Edwards left the governor’s office in 1996.

Edwards was succeeded by the staid Mike Foster, the grandmotherly Kathleen Blanco and the young policy wonk, Bobby Jindal. All are a far cry from other colorful characters from Louisiana’s political past: the windmill-armed Depression-era orator, Huey Long; country-singing Gov. Jimmie Davis, who once rode up the Capitol steps on horseback; or Gov. Earl Long, Huey’s brother, who openly cavorted with Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Starr in the 1950s.

Let’s pause here to recall Earl Long and Blaze Starr.

From Blaze Starr’s June 16, 2015 obit in the Los Angeles Times:

Born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wayne County, W. Va., Starr long performed at the Two O’Clock Club in Baltimore, earning her the nickname “The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque.”

Starr, however, became better known for what happened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Orleans, where she famously had an affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gus Weill, one of Louisiana’s first political consultants, who got his start in politics in the 1960s, said Starr was a knockout beauty who gave New Orleans glamour. He did not know her personally.

“They had the romance and history, and she added a good dollop of glamour,” Weill said about her contribution to New Orleans. “She was a wonderful dancer and much loved.”

Ted Jones, 81, a former aide to Long, said the governor’s affair was the reflection of “a 60-year-old man trying to reinvent his life.”

Jones said the open affair lasted from 1959 until Long’s death in September 1960, but didn’t appear to mar Long’s legacy — although it served as political chum for his opponents

“Of course, Ms. Blanche (Long’s wife) didn’t like her, but that was beside the point,” Jones said. “It didn’t mar his legacy; it demonstrated that old men have a flair for nice women.”

Jones recalled the last time he saw Long was right after the former governor had secured a congressional seat in 1960. He was sitting on the edge of a bed at the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria, La., with his arm around Starr.

“Personal misbehaviors on the part of male politicians were not an unusual thing,” said Alecia P. Long, a history professor at Louisiana State University. She is not related to the Long political family. But she added that Long was a “particular case because he was so open about it.”

The flamboyant stripper also claimed she had slept with John F. Kennedy before he won the presidency.

Stormy Daniel’s potential candidacy that year always teetered between mock seriousness and semi-seriousness, and the further she got from New Orleans in her listening tour, the harder it was to tell the difference.

From July 2009.

Daniels storms Shreveport

Reporter Sharon Fullilove: “When most people hear the name Stormy Daniels they think adult film star and not U.S. senator.”

Daniels said that at first she thought the draft effort was joke, and, “although I am hilarious and have a great sense of humor, this is one thing that I would never joke about.”

Fullilove: “She admits to not being qualified for the job but says there are a few issues she would like to reform.”

Daniels ultimately didn’t run for Senate in 2010.

Vitter, running against illegal immigration….

and Barack Obama, defeated Charlie Melancon, a relatively conservative Democrat, by nearly 19 points.

Vitter didn’t run again for the Senate. I think he realized that, in Washington and on the national stage, his past would always haunt him. So, in 2015 he decided to run for governor of Louisiana, which is a much bigger deal back home than being in the Senate, and where he would presumably be judged in the campaign and in his day-to-day existence  by more forgiving Louisiana standards.

But Vitter’s Democratic rival, John Bel Edwards, debuted a devastating political ad during the LSU-Alabama football game, alleging that Vitter, while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, had been on his cellphone with a call-girl service, missing a vote on a measure “honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.”

Edwards won easily and Vitter didn’t seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2016.

Stormy Daniels, of course, is back in the political news, bigly.

And yet, as a genuine scandal, Trump’s relationship with Stormy Daniels doesn’t really seem to have taken hold, seemingly lost in the shuffle.

From Colin Jost on Weekend Update:

It was reported that just before the election last year, President Trump’s personal lawyer arranged a six-figure payment to cover up an alleged affair between Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels. So at least there’s one storm Trump will pay for.

Let me just say what a thrill it is to be alive at a time where “Porn Star Blackmails President”’ is like the fourth-biggest story of the week. At this rate, in a year from now, we’re going to see the headline ‘Trump Found With Dead Hooker’ right next to the crossword puzzle.

Which, of course, recalls Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards classic 1983 quip:  “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy”.

He wasn’t and he didn’t, winning election that year to a third, non-consecutive, term as governor.

Eight years later, in 1991, after losing for re-election in 1987, Edwards won a fourth term, this time against David Duke, a former Klansman. As Edwards pointed out during the campaign,”The only place where David Duke and I are alike is we are both wizards under the sheets.”