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 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?
Many online observers noted that there appeared to be no clear winner or loser from the performances; and those watching from home likely could see the familiar talking points from the candidates.
Cassidy frequently criticized President Barack Obama’s administration and sought to tie Landrieu to the president.
“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 the “clout” she has earned during her three terms in the Senate and her family’s legacy of public service in the state. She mentioned Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has become politically unpopular, relatively speaking, in his home state.
“All he talks about is President Obama,” Landrieu said, gesturing to Cassidy. “He has some answers to give for his own record.”
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.
On the minimum wage and income inequality, Landrieu said she supports an increase in the minimum wage, Maness said he believes the wage should be set by the states and a vote of the people.
“These are things we can do now to strengthen the middle class,” Landrieu said.
Cassidy tied the issue back to Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act, and federal regulations.
“If we want to do something about income inequality we should repeal Obamacare,” he said. “We need to get out of the way, use our resources and create good-paying energy jobs.”
Landrieu’s seat has been identified as a potential win for Republicans, who are hoping to seize majority control of the U.S. Senate. Recent polls have shown a tight race with Landrieu unlikely to take 50 percent in the state’s November “jungle primary,” in which all candidates, regardless of party, run in the same election.
A Dec. 6 runoff ultimately is expected to decide the race between her and Cassidy, who has earned the backing of national GOP heavyweights.
Because of the high-profile race here, 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 non-partisan 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.
After the debate, Cassidy fielded a few questions from reporters before leaving the venue. Landrieu met with her staff before holding a news conference-style recap. All sides declared their own victories.
A second — and likely final — debate featuring all three of the top candidates will be held at LSU on Oct. 29 and also will be broadcast statewide.
If Tuesday night was any indication, all three 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 interrupted Landrieu while she answered a question about Social Security and whether the age should ultimately be raised.
Cassidy said he 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, a physician, 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 Jindal.
For Obama: Cassidy and Maness gave zeros. Landrieu said she’d give the president a “six to seven” rating.
On Jindal: Cassidy said he’d give the term-limited governor a seven, Maness gave him a five and Landrieu gave him a three.