Here is Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace's Quick Take on the appearance of Louisiana gubernatorial candidates John Bel Edwards and David Vitter before the Baton Rouge Press Club.
1) The first face-to-face meeting between runoff opponents David Vitter and John Bel Edwards before the Baton Rouge Press Club lived up to its billing. The two tangled over character as much as policy, and the exchange got particularly heated when they were asked about the role of surveillance -- from public "tracking" to private investigating.
Vitter came closest to making news on this front, when he linked his suspicions about John Cummings, the wealthy trial lawyer and Edwards donor taped by a Vitter p.i. at a Metairie coffee shop, to Danny DeNoux, a private investigator who was also at the table along with Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. DeNoux has admitted he found a source for a blogger who's been investigating Vitter's past, and at the forum Monday, Vitter said Denoux also was a target of the Vitter campaign's surveillance, which he deemed neither illegal nor improper.
"That person was researching what I believe is an illegal scheme" to "pay for false testimony for witnesses against me," Vitter said. He said he had already contacted federal authorities over the matter.
Vitter also suggested his investigator is no different from a standard campaign tracker, someone who follows candidates and records their conversation without attempting to hide. He also likened the man's actions to those of a news reporter. He said he's been a victim of tracking for years and finds it obnoxious; that prompted Edwards to point out a tracker hired by Vitter's Super PAC, someone who's been so ubiquitous on the campaign trail that he called him by his name, Joshua.
2) Vitter's "serious sin" was a topic as well. He said getting involved in the prostitution scandal was his "worst mistake," but learning from it and being forgiven by his family was the "was the single most important and positive step in my life." Asked directly whether the behavior continues, Vitter said no.
Edwards, meanwhile, insisted that the "the issue isn't just family and it isn't just forgiveness. His performance of his public duties was compromised as well." Referring to his new ad, which highlights a vote to honor fallen soldiers that Vitter missed on the same day he took a call from a Washington, D.C. call-girl ring, Edwards noted that he was a Vitter constituent at the time.
"As a veteran, I will tell you I was angry when he missed that vote, and I found out what he was doing," Edwards said. Earlier in the debate, he'd slipped in another indirect dig when he justified his low ranking by some business groups. "I don't try to give 100 percent to anyone other than my wife."
3) Just as Edwards stood by his highest-temperature commercial, Vitter stood by his most controversial ad, which features Edwards telling a crowd at Southern University that he would reduce the prison population by 5,500, enough to drop Louisiana's incarceration rate from first in the nation to second. The Vitter ad accuses Edwards of wanting to release "dangerous thugs" and Vitter said Monday that Edwards' statement was "pure political pandering." Edwards countered by claiming that Vitter was pandering by running the ad.
"He is dishonest, he is lying and he ought to know better," Edwards said.
4) The forum focused largely on campaign-related accusations, but it did touch on some issues.
Neither candidate would name two specific statutory dedications he'd cut to raise revenue. Asked to name a tax exemption he'd target other than the oft-criticized solar and film tax credits, Edwards specified an insurance exemption and another for horizontal drilling. Vitter didn't specify a particular program.
Vitter highlighted his support for school choice programs, for both public charters and vouchers for private schools. Edwards argued that he’s been supportive of funding charters as well as traditional public schools by pushing to raise the Minimum Foundation Program state funding, but said he also supports local districts that are getting the job done. He said some of the reform legislation he opposed has been found to be unconstitutional.
Edwards once again offered an impassioned defense of Medicaid expansion, which he said he’d accept immediately. Vitter continued to place conditions on taking the expansion, and argued that doing so would cost the state more than the 10 percent match that local hospitals have agreed to pay.