Vitter quickly became the Louisiana delegation's most conservative member — against abortion even in cases of rape and incest and against gambling — and he secured power through his seat on the House Appropriations Committee. There were whispers about Vitter having an affair with a prostitute around the time he was contemplating a gubernatorial run in 2002, but nothing ever was reported in the mainstream media.
In May 2002, he opted out of that race, announcing that he and Wendy had entered counseling because of the "cumulative stress from working in a high-pressure job, living in two cities, building a house, raising four young kids including a newborn, having our campaign activities based at home and traveling the state considering a run for governor."
But the next year, after Sen. John Breaux, D-La., announced in 2003 that he wouldn't seek re-election, Vitter within days announced he would run to succeed him, and the national GOP did everything it could to clear the way for the man who said he represented "mainstream Louisiana values."
With President Bush running strong on top of the ticket — and Vitter winning his home parish by a 5-1 ratio over his chief opponent Rep. Chris John, D-La. — Vitter avoided the state's odd runoff process by securing more than 50 percent of the vote.
On Aug. 30, 2005, the day after Hurricane Katrina hit, Vitter erroneously told the public that, "In the metropolitan area in general, in the huge majority of areas, [the water is] not rising at all. It's the same or it may be lowering slightly. In some parts of New Orleans, because of the 17th Street breach, it may be rising and that seemed to be the case in parts of downtown. I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening."
He has perhaps been best known nationally for criticizing the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, opposing Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, fighting for the Federal Marriage Amendment and endorsing Giuliani.