1) It's a shame U.S. Sen. David Vitter picked this forum to attend, rather than Wednesday night's showdown on Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The questions Wednesday night were much more incisive, and the questioners asked follow-ups to try to get specifics out of the candidates. This one really could have used some of that, as the answers were all too frequently vague and talking-point-heavy. Some interaction between candidates would have helped, too. Oh, and a studio audience would have been a plus (although the debate was held at the public Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, no students or journalists were allowed in the room).
2) That said, viewers who weren't already familiar with the field would have learned of a few differences between candidates.
Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards, for example, is the only hopeful to support raising the minimum wage (the question wasn't specifically about a state increase or a federal increase). All three Republicans, Vitter, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, are against a higher minimum wage.
Edwards is also the only candidate who'd expand Medicaid immediately rather than try to negotiate a waiver with the Obama administration. Medicaid expansion, of course, is part of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, but Gov. Bobby Jindal has refused to accept it despite the fact that the federal government picks up most of the bill. Jindal didn't consider a waiver to craft a Louisiana-specific program, so expect a big change under any of these potential governors. Of the three, Dardenne sounds most likely to try to access the money, then craft some reforms.
3) Another key difference among the candidates: Only Dardenne supports the Common Core education standards. Vitter, who once backed them, threatened to veto the revisions that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to consider if he decides that they amount to "Common Core by another name." Edwards and Angelle touted their longstanding opposition.
"Somebody started serving the Kool-Aid and people started drinking it," Angelle said.
4) Not too many memorable lines, but I give Dardenne credit for some truth-telling on how difficult rolling back tax exemptions, no matter how expensive, will be.
"This is not going to be easy because everybody's got a constituency," Dardenne said.