The shoe is on the other foot as election day approaches in the Louisiana governor’s race.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is taking aim at Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards because Edwards has agreed to participate in just two televised debates before the Nov. 21 runoff.
Just last month, it was Vitter who faced criticism for not participating in more debates.
The first debate in the runoff for governor aired live on Louisiana Public Broadcasting Tuesday evening. The second, which is being organized by Nexstar, will take place Monday and will air statewide.
In the run-up to the Oct. 24 primary, Vitter faced harsh words from Edwards and Republicans Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne when he repeatedly skipped major forums and televised debates they all attended. He often cited his duties in Washington, D.C.
But that was when he was leading in the race. Vitter came in a distant second in the Oct. 24 primary and has been behind in the polls since.
Vitter now is accusing Edwards of canceling on a televised debate that had been planned next week. The organizer, Raycom Media, says Edwards rejected an invitation to be there. Edwards said he has only ever agreed to two that he knew about before the Oct. 24 primary.
“We’ve made solid gains in each of the past four days as voters focus on the huge differences of my conservative record and John Bel Edwards’ liberal one,” Vitter said. “And that’s exactly why John Bel Edwards has canceled participating in this major statewide televised debate.”
Raycom, which owns several Louisiana-based television stations, and WWL-TV had each attempted to organize debates in the final week of the runoff. Edwards, citing scheduling conflicts, has declined both — effectively killing plans for Raycom’s, while WWL continues to evaluate how it will proceed.
“I did seven in the primary, and (Vitter) did two,” Edwards told The Advocate on Friday. “The runoff is only 28 days long, and you have to be able to maintain a schedule.”
Vitter and Edwards appeared together at forums this week organized by the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday and Together Louisiana on Friday.
But Vitter also criticized Edwards for skipping two other forums — one at Southern University and one sponsored by the conservative Louisiana Family Forum and some local churches.
For both, Edwards’ campaign cited short notice and scheduling conflicts. He held at least two events in Baton Rouge the night of the Southern University forum, which was organized by an online publication whose publisher accused Edwards of dodging the event so he wouldn’t offend white voters.
During Friday’s Together Louisiana forum, the candidates were encouraged not to acknowledge each other and focus solely on their personal positions on issues such as poverty and Medicaid expansion.
Together Louisiana is a state-wide, interdenominational grass-roots group of faith and community leaders.
“The focus of this meeting is the interests, concerns and vision of the people of more than 40 communities that we represent,” said the Rev. Frank Hughes, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minden.
Several members of the group gave personal testimonial of hardships as the two candidates looked on.
Marvel Martin, of Baton Rouge, told them that her daughter, after working at a nursing home for more than six years, still makes only $15,000 a year.
“I think it’s ridiculous that she cares for others as she (does) and she cannot care for her own family without our help. This is not right,” she told them.
Edwards said he would push to raise the minimum wage if Congress doesn’t, and he supports programs such as the earned income tax credit to assist low-income people. “If you get up and work every day, you should not live in poverty,” he told the crowd to applause.
Vitter said his plan focuses on job training and workforce development efforts that would give people a better shot at higher-paying jobs.
“Workforce development is absolutely the key,” he said.
Together Louisiana does not plan to endorse in the race.