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.
Daniels, meanwhile, has not committed to a candidacy — or a political party.
She decided to explore a possible run after a draft movement started by fans after the Palfrey scandal broke, she said. "I completely ignored the whole thing for a while, and then I just got so much encouragement and feedback that I thought at the very least I owe it to myself and to the people to come out and see what they have to say."
At Mike Serio’s Po-Boys & Deli in downtown New Orleans on Wednesday, the crowd was friendly but some seemed more interested in Daniels’ film career.
"You look familiar. Not your face, though," said Jody Mathern, 51, a New Orleans man who said he works in the oil industry, drawing laughs from Daniels and a table full of oil patch workers. "She’s a whole lot prettier than Vitter. But I still don’t know what color her eyes are."
Associated Press Writer Mary Foster in New Orleans contributed to this story.