Facing a tight re-election bid, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is ramping up efforts to court seniors, hoping older voters will help push her over the edge to win a fourth term.
Landrieu on Tuesday made several stops across the state to tout an endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington-based advocacy group that is the second-largest seniors organization — behind the AARP.
Max Richman, president of NCPSSM, told a crowd of seniors in Baton Rouge that the endorsement was based on Landrieu’s voting record.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Richman said. “It’s how these candidates fight for seniors, what they support.”
Landrieu and her leading Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, already had been fighting over the future of Social Security and Medicare through television ads and remarks at campaign stops, but the issues were heightened once the two went head-to-head in the Senate race’s first televised debate last week. More than half a million Louisiana residents receive Social Security benefits.
During the debate, Cassidy said that gradually raising the Social Security age to 70 would help the program in the long-run. He said he wouldn’t support changes for those who are currently on Social Security or soon to receive, though.
“The trust fund is going bankrupt,” Cassidy said.
Both Maness and Landrieu said they disagreed with the proposed age increase, and Cassidy attempted to interrupt Landrieu’s answer — the debate’s only major butt-in.
“There are some jobs that are hard and people cannot work until 70,” Landrieu said. “That’s one of the things at stake in this election.”
Cassidy has argued that Landrieu’s support for the federal Affordable Care Act weakened Medicare, the health care program for seniors. Cassidy, who worked as a doctor before running for elected office, has supported plans to turn that program into a voucher-based system that would provide funding for seniors to purchase health care plans on their own through the private market. On Social Security, Cassidy repeatedly has said that without a long-term plan for Social Security, the program ultimately would be threatened.
But Landrieu has seized on those points, using them to stoke up the crowd of seniors in Baton Rouge on Tuesday. With recent polls showing her campaign in jeopardy, she also has set out on courting hundreds of women at events across the state. A women’s rally for Landrieu in New Orleans is expected to draw 1,600 people this week. An earlier one in Baton Rouge had 900 women in attendance.
At the senior event Tuesday she talked up building coalitions of seniors and women to win the election.
“We’re gonna support Mary, like she supports us,” said Baton Rouge resident Rose Saunier, 74, who attended Tuesday’s event in Baton Rouge.
Saunier, gesturing around the room, said Social Security is the only source of income for many of the people who had gathered at the Council on Aging.
“We’d probably be — all of us — on welfare,” she said. “This is not free; we paid for it.”
Ditching the podium for a spot close to the front row, Landrieu picked up a man’s walking cane.
“(Cassidy) might be afraid of you all,” she said with a grin. “I’m gonna call him ‘our opponent’ — he’s not just my opponent.”
Cassidy, during the Oct. 14 debate, promised to post to his website evidence that Landrieu is misleading voters on her Social Security and Medicare positions.
Two days later, the post went up noting that in 2005, Landrieu praised Social Security changes that were made in the 1980s. Those reforms included raising the age limit. The site also noted that Landrieu had signed a letter in support of a budget plan that proposed a gradual increase in the Social Security eligibility age.
“Mary Landrieu wants to have it both ways on Social Security. She’s telling seniors falsehoods about her record and Dr. Cassidy’s on the campaign trail and on the airwaves,” Cassidy spokesman John Cummins said in a statement.
Following the debate, Landrieu’s campaign had already created a special website dedicated to one remark Cassidy made during the debate.
“People don’t talk about it because it doesn’t hurt anybody,” Cassidy said, explaining that the age adjustments would be gradual and would not affect current recipients.
Landrieu’s campaign site, 70willhurt.com, features that seven-second clip from the debate, juxtaposed with clips of seniors telling why increasing the age to “70 will hurt.”
The nonpartisan Factcheck.org has called out Landrieu’s campaign for what it calls misleading statements about Cassidy’s positions on Social Security in a television ad.
“The claims that Cassidy voted to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits are accurate,” Factcheck.org notes. “But his votes did not cut benefits to pay for tax cuts, and the gradual increase in the retirement age would not apply to ... anyone ‘retiring soon.’ ”