Shreveport — Tuesday night’s debate among the three leading candidates in Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race featured few surprises, but gave each a chance to point out their differences and challenge each other face-to-face.
Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy and Republican retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness squared off on television for the first time Tuesday — three weeks to the day before Louisiana voters will decide the state’s next senator or send the race into a December runoff.
The hourlong debate, which was held at Centenary College in Shreveport and hosted by the Council for A Better Louisiana and Louisiana Public Broadcasting, aired on public television throughout the state and live on C-SPAN.
Many of the issues were familiar topics from the campaign trail: What would the candidates do about the minimum wage, the federal Affordable Care Act, student loan debt, the future of Medicare and climate change?
Those watching likely noted familiar talking points from the candidates.
Cassidy frequently criticized President Barack Obama’s administration and sought to tie Landrieu to it.
“I don’t trust this president,” Cassidy said, responding to the nation’s handling of the Islamic State terrorist group. “He’s a very poor president-in-chief.”
Landrieu sought to play up her experience and family legacy of public service in the state.
“It’s really almost criminal that my opponents won’t support an increase in the minimum age,” she said at one point, gesturing toward Maness and Cassidy.
Meanwhile, Maness, a political newcomer who is backed by tea parties, sought to set himself apart as an outsider.
“I believe our best days can be ahead of us if the people will rise up and serve,” he said.
For weeks, Louisiana voters have been bombarded with television commercials touting or deriding Landrieu and Cassidy’s positions on jobs, the federal Affordable Care Act, energy policy and other key issues. A recent review by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity found that at least 50,000 TV ads had run on the U.S. Senate race through the end of September — one of the highest rates of the election cycle.
Landrieu’s seat has been seen as a potential grab for Republicans hoping to seize majority control of the U.S. Senate. Recent polls have shown a tight race where Landrieu’s unlikely to take 50 percent in the state’s “jungle primary” next month.
A Dec. 6 runoff ultimately is expected to decide the race between Cassidy and Landrieu.
Tuesday’s debate provided the first opportunity for voters to see one featuring Cassidy, the GOP frontrunner who spent this week touring with former Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Louisiana’s other U.S. senator, Republican David Vitter.
Maness and Landrieu, who have debated each other previously, repeatedly have criticized Cassidy’s decision to participate in only two televised debates before the election.
A second — and likely final — debate featuring all three will be held at LSU on Oct. 29 and also will be broadcast statewide.
If Tuesday night was any indication, they each had plenty to say about their positions, as well as their opponents.
The candidates repeatedly ran over the 1-minute time limit they were given to answer questions and continued to talk while moderators attempted to halt them.
A visibly frustrated Cassidy on at least one occasion disrupted Landrieu while she answered a question about Social Security and whether the age should ultimately be raised.
Cassidy supports a gradual increase that would primarily affect younger generations before they near retirement age, while Landrieu said she opposes an increase in age eligibility.
“There are some jobs that are really hard and people can’t work to 70,” she said.
Cassidy said his plan for health care would be to repeal the Affordable Care Act in favor of a program that would grant tax credits for health insurance.
“We give the patient the power,” he said, before calling Landrieu “the deciding vote for ‘Obamacare.’ ”
Landrieu said she supports changes to the federal health care law, but would oppose a repeal.
“The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. It needs to be fixed,” she said.
All three were asked to rate the job performance of both Obama and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
For Obama: Cassidy and Maness gave zeros. Landrieu said she’d give the president a “6 to 7” rating.
On Jindal: Cassidy said he’d give the term-limited governor a 7, Maness gave him a 5 and Landrieu gave him a 3.