- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - As Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu readies for the only debate she’ll get against Republican front-runner Bill Cassidy, early voting data shows she faces long odds for her re-election to a fourth term.

About 24,000 fewer people cast ballots early for Saturday’s runoff election than in advance of the Nov. 4 primary. And there were more white and Republican voters than there were last month, when Landrieu ended up with 42 percent support.

The two candidates face off Monday night in the only debate of the runoff, which is to be televised around the state. Landrieu sought more debates, but Cassidy agreed to just one, as he holds the lead in the race and seeks to avoid any possible missteps in an unscripted event.

Landrieu is the last Democratic statewide elected official standing in a state trending more Republican each election cycle. National Democrats have largely abandoned her in campaign advertising, leaving her to fend for herself while national Republican and conservative organizations continue to slam her and support Cassidy on the airwaves.

Republicans will maintain control of the Senate, even if Landrieu wins.

The Democratic incumbent from New Orleans needs strong turnout from black voters and improved support from white voters to turn the tide in her favor. But if early voting is a strong indication, black voter interest in the race has dropped.

Thirty-two percent of the voters who cast ballots early in November were black, and 65 percent were white. But in the latest weeklong early voting period, only 28 percent of the voters were black, though they make up 31 percent of the state’s registered voters.

Since she was forced into a runoff, Landrieu has largely focused on direct attacks against Cassidy, a Republican congressman and doctor from Baton Rouge.

In recent days, she’s challenged his medical teaching work for the LSU charity hospital system - and she released a new radio ad Monday hitting him on the issue. Landrieu’s suggested Cassidy collected a $20,000, taxpayer-funded annual salary from the university for little or no work.

“He’s portrayed himself as a doctor that’s been treating the poor. And it turns out that he’s been treating himself to a sweetheart deal,” Landrieu said Monday, at an event describing gaps in Cassidy’s timesheets and questionable billings.

Cassidy worked a little more than five years for LSU after being elected to Congress and before taking a leave of absence for the campaign. The university has provided only 16 timesheets for the period, and they show him working fewer than 14 hours per month on average. Landrieu also questioned how Cassidy could be doing medical work on days when he also took votes in Congress or attended committee hearings in Washington.

She’s called on Cassidy to bring his missing timesheets to Monday night’s debate.

LSU hasn’t provided any details about Cassidy’s contract or how many hours he was required to work. University spokesman Ernie Ballard issued a statement saying: “Based on concerns that have surfaced in the news media, we will review any information we have regarding Dr. Bill Cassidy’s employment with LSU, just as we would any other employee.”

Cassidy has said he did nothing improper. He’s described Landrieu’s criticism as “her 11th-hour attempt to salvage her political career,” and he’s stuck to his message of repeatedly tying the Democratic senator to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Louisiana.

“It’s sad, really, that Sen. Landrieu attacks my service to south Louisiana as its only liver specialist who serves uninsured and Medicaid patients,” Cassidy said in a statement. “I’ve said all along, if LSU no longer has a need for my services, they can let me go.”

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