- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The eight Republicans vying for an open congressional seat representing the metropolitan Baton Rouge area tried Tuesday to highlight differences among their personal resumes, even as they strike largely similar policy positions.

In a debate held by the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, the GOP contenders for the 6th District described themselves as conservatives who oppose the federal health care law, think President Barack Obama has overreached his authority and believe existing law can deal with the nation’s large number of illegal immigrants if applied properly.

They also agreed that they were likely competing against each other in the Nov. 4 election for a runoff spot against former Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat and convicted felon who leads in the polls while the large Republican field splits the remaining vote.

“Let’s face it, all of us are great candidates, and we are all better than the alternative, which is Edwin Edwards,” said Cassie Felder, a tax attorney from Baton Rouge.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to the Dec. 6 runoff.

Felder highlighted her background in tax law as important for Congress, while physical therapist Craig McCulloch of Baker said his health care work made him keenly aware of the flaws of the health care law pushed by Obama. State Sen. Dan Claitor, a lawyer from Baton Rouge, touted his background in small business.

Former Louisiana coastal chief Garret Graves introduced himself by saying: “I think America’s on the wrong track.” Former LSU football player and teacher Trey Thomas described the federal government as “out of control.”

Software company owner Paul Dietzel, grandson of a legendary former LSU football coach, touted his youth. He’s 28 years old. “It’s time for a new generation of leaders,” he said.

On the policy issues, only subtle differences existed among the contenders.

Bob Bell, a retired Navy captain and online columnist for the Tea Party of Louisiana, went further than most in his opposition to the president, saying Congress should consider impeachment proceedings because Obama has overstepped his constitutional authority.

“We should at least start an investigation about impeachment,” Bell said.

All the candidates said they opposed the federal health care law.

“While it is a well-intentioned idea, it is a business killer,” Claitor said.

McCulloch said the only appropriate course is to fully repeal the law. He said he wants it replaced with “conservative principles.”

State Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma, pushed ideas such as allowing insurance companies to sell products across state lines, cutting down on Medicaid fraud and letting companies pool together to buy insurance.

“We need to unleash the free market,” she said.

Graves said portions of the law that prohibit insurance companies from refusing to cover people with pre-existing health conditions and that allow people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26 could be worth keeping. But otherwise, he too supported repeal.

“I don’t think there are any parts of the law that are salvageable,” Felder said.

In addition to Edwards and the Republican candidates, also in the race are Libertarian Rufus Craig, a Baton Rouge lawyer, and Democrat Richard Lieberman, a real estate broker from LaPlace.

The 6th District seat is vacant because Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Nov. 4 election. The district stretches from Pointe Coupee Parish down into Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, containing most of the metropolitan Baton Rouge area.



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