Lt. Governor candidates hope their credentials pay dividends in upcoming election, because it's main issue in race _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- From left, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, speak on stage following a governor's debate presented by WVLA-TV on Wednesday at The Dunham School in Baton Rouge.

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Here is Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace's Quick Take on the most recent Louisiana gubernatorial debate:

1) What a difference a week makes. This debate, hosted by several television stations in Baton Rouge and Shreveport and aired statewide, was a wonky affair mainly focused on Louisiana's fiscal mess. Quite the contrast with last Thursday's WDSU debate, which centered almost exclusively on hot-button social issues and largely ignored state policy.

The other difference, of course, was that U.S. Sen. David Vitter skipped this one, leaving Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and state Rep. John Bel Edwards to talk among themselves about balancing the budget, eliminating costly tax exemptions, paying for new roads, funding higher ed and privatizing state hospitals.

2) That said, the debate revealed few substantive differences among the candidates who took part. One was over their willingness to cap the popular TOPS program -- Dardenne said he'd be willing to and the others said they wouldn't. Dardenne was also the only candidate who said he'd consider raising personal income taxes, although he quickly added that he was not advocating the idea, just putting everything on the table.

All three said they'd keep, but improve, Gov. Bobby Jindal's public-private hospital partnerships. Edwards added that he'd get rid of the provision allowing operators to walk on 60 days notice. All also said they'd keep a State Police presence in the French Quarter, at least for now.

3) The three candidates who did show up have developed a Three Amigos vibe. Asked to name something admirable about his opponents, each addressed only the other men present. Angelle lauded Edwards' military service and Dardenne's integrity. Dardenne singled out Edwards' military and legislative service, including as leader of the loyal opposition to Jindal, as well as Angelle's tenacity and sense of humor. Edwards said both of the other men are committed public servants and decent men who "show up."

That, obviously, was a reference to the absent Vitter (whose Twitter account was active throughout the debate). None of the other three had a kind word to say about him, and Dardenne took several opportunities to answer Vitter's attack ads against him, which are running relentlessly on television.

"I'm not the person you see in commercials by Senator David Vitter, the elephant who's not in the room," Dardenne said during the debate's opening moments.

4) Angelle had the line of the night. Asked to tell the story of his engagement, Angelle said he'd never gotten around to giving his wife a ring. "I told her if I ever got elected governor I'd buy her a ring."