While U.S. Sen. David Vitter missed Monday’s gubernatorial forum, his chief rivals used the gathering to blast Vitter’s television advertisements that began over the weekend.
Republican Scott Angelle, who Vitter’s ad compares to President Barack Obama, tried to turn the table by drawing comparisons between the Metairie Republican and the president.
Vitter and Obama both attended Ivy League colleges, served in the U.S. Senate and lacked any executive experience when they campaigned, Angelle said.
“I am not worried about David’s attacks,” Angelle added.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said the ads are the “same old retread stuff” that has been used unsuccessfully against him in previous campaigns, including Vitter’s charge that Dardenne is a liberal.
The Republican lieutenant governor, who lives in Baton Rouge, said accusations that Dardenne voted for taxes 21 times is off target and that he enjoyed a 100 percent approval rating from Louisiana Right to Life when he ran for lieutenant governor.
The ad says Dardenne voted against anti-abortion positions six times when he was a state senator.
Democrat John Bel Edwards, a state representative from Amite, said the ads show Vitter is “not nearly as secure” of his standing in the race for governor as he says he is.
“Sen. Vitter is the consummate Washington career politician,” said Edwards, who was not targeted by the newest Vitter ads.
While the gubernatorial forums have gone on since January, this one was unique in that the candidates did not get the questions in advance.
They made opening and closing statements and fielded questions from the audience on a wide range of topics.
The primary is Oct. 24. The runoff is Nov. 21.
The four major candidates, and five long-shot contenders, are trying to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal, who cannot seek a third consecutive term.
After the debate, Angelle’s campaign disputed another weekend ad by a Vitter-aligned super PAC that suggested Angelle did nothing to prevent the Bayou Corne sinkhole.
Angelle, who was secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources at the time, had no authority to intervene in an issue the state reserves for the assistant secretary of the office of conservation, according to a statement released by his campaign.
Additionally, the president of the Assumption Parish Police Jury — the parish that is the site of the sinkhole — issued a statement Monday that said Angelle visited the problem area within two days of the incident. “To suggest that Scott Angelle abandoned Bayou Corne and Assumption Parish is nothing short of completely false,” wrote Martin S. Triche, president of the Police Jury.
The commercial also suggests Angelle quit as DNR secretary to dodge responsibility for the mess.
In a prepared statement, Angelle said he and his family had already decided he would run for an open seat on the Public Service Commission, which he holds now.
During the forum, one split surfaced in how the candidates view efforts to boost the minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.
Of the three, Edwards was the lone contender who said he would back such an increase, which he said would help curb poverty that has plagued Louisiana for generations.
Dardenne opposed such a hike and said an improved education system is the way to aid the poor.
Angelle said he opposes a higher minimum wage and that early childhood education is one of the keys to reducing poverty.
Edwards said Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle all have given GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal passing grades.
He said he would give Jindal an F and that he was critical of the governor long before it became common, and even when Jindal enjoyed a 70 percent approval rating in polls.
“He has been an unmitigated disaster for this state,” Edwards said of Jindal.
Dardenne, in an apparent verbal jab at Vitter, said the next 30 days will feature wedge politics.
He said candidates should instead focus on “who is going to bring this state together” and that his time in office has shown his passion and vision for Louisiana.
Angelle, who lives in Breaux Bridge, said picking the next governor is not just about finding the best person to govern.
“It is about the man,” he said. “We need a governor who wants to work with everyone.”
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.