BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After months of attacks about his prostitution scandal, Republican candidate for governor David Vitter is addressing the issue in a new television ad — though without using the word prostitution.
The 30-second spot, released Monday, features Vitter sitting at a kitchen table as he talks to the camera, saying: "Fifteen years ago, I failed my family but found forgiveness and love."
"I learned that our falls aren't what define us but rather how we get up, accept responsibility and earn redemption," Vitter says, as the ad next shows him eating dinner with his family.
Then, he pivots to Louisiana's budget and education problems and tells viewers that he's a fighter who will work to fix the state's woes if elected in the Nov. 21 runoff.
Release of the ad comes as Vitter begins responding more directly to a scandal that has dogged his campaign and is considered a drag on his poll numbers. Vitter also answered questions about the scandal during a debate Monday with his Democratic rival, John Bel Edwards.
Outside groups and other candidates have repeatedly hit Vitter about the scandal this election cycle. Vitter, a U.S. senator, apologized in 2007 for a "very serious sin" after he was linked through phone records to Washington's "D.C. Madam." Vitter had been in the U.S. House when the calls were made from 1999 to 2001.
Most recently, Edwards, a state representative who leads the House Democrats, released his first direct attack ad against Vitter for the scandal. In it, Edwards seeks to contrast his military experience as an Army Ranger with Vitter, describing Edwards "who answered our country's call" and Vitter "who answered a prostitute's call."
Vitter campaign spokesman Luke Bolar said the new Vitter spot isn't in response to Edwards' strike against him.
"This is an ad we've been planning to run for a while," Bolar said Monday.
After a massive fundraising effort, Vitter started the election cycle as the favorite to follow term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal into office in January.
His poll numbers fell, however, amid revived talk of his prostitution scandal and a blistering primary battle with his Republican opponents. He's been criticized for a negative campaign tone and misleading attack ads, and Edwards has taken the lead in a state that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 2008.
Vitter had dodged talk of the scandal most of the current campaign, until unveiling the ad as the race was tightening.
When questioned about the matter at a Monday debate with Edwards, Vitter called the incident "the most serious mistake of my life" and said overcoming it with his family as "the single most positive experience of my life."
Asked whether "the behavior" ended years ago, Vitter replied: "The answer is absolutely yes."
Edwards said the issue wasn't just about whether Vitter's family had forgiven him. He said Vitter missed "key votes" during some of the time covered by the D.C. Madam phone records.
"His performance of his public duties was compromised," Edwards said.