U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu weaved her way through “Air Mary” signs as she qualified Wednesday to run again amid controversy about her travel expenses.

Almost 40 candidates for congressional, public service commission and judicial offices signed up with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office on the first day of qualifying. Candidates can qualify to run for election until 4:30 p.m. Friday.

The 18-year incumbent seeking her fourth term smiled and welcomed the protesters as she briskly walked into the offices of Secretary of State Tom Schedler. Landrieu and Schedler chatted while his staff collected the fees, filled out the questionnaires and certified the documents that officially add candidates’ names to the Nov. 4 ballot.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, the leading Republican challenging Landrieu’s re-election, was among the first candidates to arrive at the 8 a.m. opening. He was accompanied by his wife and 12-year-old daughter as he sat down to become the second candidate to qualify.

He told reporters Landrieu’s “chartergate” is indicative of elitism in Washington.

Landrieu has been criticized over the past few days over whether she has, on occasion, improperly crossed the line between official travel, which is paid for by taxpayers, and campaign-related trips, which should be paid from campaign funds.

Cassidy said it was one of the issues he wanted to bring up when the candidates debate.

After speaking to the press, he greeted a couple dozen supporters.

Landrieu and Rob Maness, a retired Air Force officer and retired Entergy Corp. executive, have agreed to several debates but Cassidy had not. At qualifying, Cassidy said he was weighing the dates, but would join the debates.

A tea party favorite and Madisonville Republican, Manness’ staff said he would qualify Friday. Democrat William P. Waymire Jr., of Gonzales, also became a candidate in the U.S. Senate race.

In response to the questions over her travel and use of chartered aircraft, Landrieu said in a news conference after signing in that the issue diverted attention from real issues. “Congressman Cassidy has done everything he can to not talk about the real issues of this campaign, because his record is very sparse and very modest,” Landrieu said.

She called the problems bookkeeping errors and said her office hired a law firm to go over all the records.

Landrieu said she would release the findings and documentation when the firm completes its review. No time line has been set.

It was the first time Cassidy and Landrieu, who had been sending out emails and letting staff comment, directly discussed what has been dubbed chartergate.

Outside the Secretary of State’s Office, Ben Voelkel, a Wisconsin native who moved here in the spring to work on the campaign to oust Landrieu, gathered a group of protesters to dress like a flight attendant, pilot and limo driver for “Air Mary.” He humorously pulled items from what he called Landrieu’s carry-on. The travel bag included pretzels and a map of Louisiana.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat whose congressional district stretches from New Orleans to north Baton Rouge, and Schedler, a Republican from the north shore, talked about the “Air Mary” protesters while officials certified the paperwork. Schedler said he was disappointed and Richmond recalled how they had worked together well when both were in the Legislature. “It’s a different day,” Richmond said.

Richmond attracted an opponent in Democrat Gary Landrieu, who ran two years ago.

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards arrived with wife Trina at his side to qualify for the 6th Congressional District race as a Democrat. The newly redrawn 6th District curves from south Baton Rouge and its suburbs to the outer suburbs of New Orleans to parts of Houma.

“Some say it’s mission impossible. On Dec. 7, I’ll say mission accomplished,” Edwards said, a reference to the date after any congressional runoff.

He said one of his priorities will be to get federal funding for an elevated expressway on Interstate 10.

Garret Graves, a former aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal who filed as a Republican in the race, said Edwards’ inclusion creates a circuslike mentality. Already the former governor has been the subject of several national magazine and newspaper articles.

“We’re moving into a phase where we should be getting into substance,” Graves said.

Libertarian Rufus Craig, a Baton Rouge attorney who signed up as a Libertarian in the 6th District race, said Edwards would generate turnout for Landrieu in the November election.

Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, whose south Baton Rouge district is inside the 6th Congressional District, came with his wife, a son and his mother. He was qualified by a constituent, First Assistant Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Lafayette, qualified and said he hadn’t heard of any competitor asking for funds or working the clubs in Acadiana.

But Richard Russell, of Lafayette, qualified to run without party affiliation. And Bryan Barrilleaux, of Lake Charles, delivered the signatures of 1,260 registered voters in order to qualify to challenge Boustany as a conservative Republican.

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo filed to run as a Democrat in the 5th Congressional District. Former District Attorney Ed Tarpley, of Alexandria, and businessman Harris Brown, of Monroe, filled out the papers to run as a Republican.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, and another Republican challenger, Zach Dasher, of Calhoun, who is related to the Roberston family of “Duck Dynasty” fame, plan to qualify Thursday.

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