- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu framed Louisiana’s Senate election Tuesday as a referendum on her three terms in office, not the policies of unpopular President Barack Obama, in the first TV debate featuring all three major contenders in the race.

While the Democratic incumbent defended her vote for Obama’s federal health care overhaul, she suggested it needed improvement. She distanced herself from Obama’s energy policies and talked of her work with multiple presidents over the years, both Republican and Democrat. She emphasized her years in office and Senate seniority as valuable to Louisiana.

“While President Obama is not on the ballot, the future of Louisiana is,” Landrieu said at the debate, which was broadcast statewide and hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for A Better Louisiana.

Landrieu’s main Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, repeatedly tied the incumbent senator to Obama’s policies, saying a vote for Landrieu would be a vote for the president’s agenda.

“She represents Barack Obama. I represent you,” Cassidy said in a packed theater at Centenary College. “Do you want Sen. Landrieu to complete Barack Obama’s agenda?”

GOP candidate and tea party favorite Rob Maness positioned himself as the Washington outsider, criticizing both his opponents as part of an establishment culture that has failed the nation.

“Our future is in danger from poor leadership from career politicians,” he said.

Landrieu is targeted nationally by Republicans in their effort to retake control of the Senate. Polls show that no candidate is projected to exceed the 50 percent voter support needed to win in Louisiana’s November primary. The race instead is expected to be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy.

Outside of the federal health care revamp, the sharpest policy differences in Tuesday’s debate came over entitlement programs for the elderly.

Both Cassidy and Landrieu accused each other of supporting cuts to the popular Medicare program in various votes they’ve taken in Congress. Landrieu said her chief Republican rival wants to turn Medicare into a “voucher program” that would harm benefits, while Cassidy said the Democratic senator cut Medicare when she voted for Obama’s signature health care overhaul.

Maness said he didn’t support either approach, but failed to offer an idea of his own to keep the program solvent for the long term.

On Social Security, Cassidy said he doesn’t support making changes to the program for existing beneficiaries and those near retirement age, but he suggested benefit and retirement age changes for people who are younger.

Maness and Landrieu both criticized Cassidy for voting for a budget proposal that would raise the Social Security retirement age to 70, saying they opposed the idea.

Party divisions marked discussion of the Obama administration’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State militant group.

All three candidates supported a U.S.-led military campaign, but Cassidy and Maness said Obama has mishandled the response. Cassidy repeated Republican criticism that Obama hasn’t presented a full plan for working to defeat the extremist group.

“I don’t trust this president. I think he’s a very poor commander in chief,” Cassidy said.

Asked about using ground troops, Landrieu said she supports the use of force, but said she “would stop short at this point for boots on the ground.” Cassidy said he would need to see a broader plan before he would support U.S. ground forces.

Maness said Landrieu and Cassidy should be back in Washington debating how to pay for the effort and pushing for a defined strategy from the president.

“Congress has given him a blank check to fight an undeclared war,” Maness said.


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