The three candidates in Louisiana’s race for U.S. Senate faced off in their first debate Tuesday night, trading shots over Obamacare and who would do the most to preserve Medicare.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu weathered frequent jabs from the two Republican candidates, Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who repeatedly reminded voters that Mrs. Landrieu has supported the unpopular Mr. Obama’s policies.
The two Republicans railed against Obamacare, with Mr. Cassidy saying Mrs. Landrieu “cast the deciding vote” in the Senate to pass Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Cassidy held up a paper that he said was a notice of a 66 percent rate increase that will take effect next year for a Louisiana voter’s health plan.
“Clearly this is the Unaffordable Care Act,” he quipped.
Mr. Maness, who is running as the tea party-backed conservative alternative to the GOP establishment-backed Mr. Cassidy, called Obamacare “an abomination” that he said needed to be “pulled out by the roots.”
Under Louisiana election law, the candidates face off in an open election Nov. 4. The two with the most votes advance to a Dec. 6 runoff if none of the candidates gets 50 percent of the vote. Recent polls give no candidate with 50 percent support.
Mrs. Landrieu has always faced difficult election campaigns in conservative Louisiana. But this year’s race is the toughest yet for the three-term incumbent as she faces voters bitterly dissatisfied with Mr. Obama and policies that Mrs. Landrieu and/or the Democratic majority in the Senate largely supported.
She is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in a grueling election year for her party and a top target in the Republican quest for the net gain of six Senate seats needed to seize majority control of the chamber.
The debate at Centenary College in Shreveport was the first time the three candidates faced each other on TV.
Mrs. Landrieu used the opportunity Tuesday to take a few swipes at Mr. Cassidy, starting almost as soon as the debate began.
After Mr. Cassidy in his opening statement said he got into public life in response to the failed leadership he witnessed in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, Mrs. Landrieu, in her opening remarks, hit the congressman for voting against disaster relief — a hot-button issue in the state.
“In six years in Washington, he voted against disaster aid for Hurricane Isaac in his own district,” she said.
Mr. Cassidy later challenged the accusation, saying relief for Hurricane Isaac was not in the bill he opposed.
Mr. Cassidy took aim at Mrs. Landrieu’s biggest liability: her party affiliation.
He said the first vote she would cast if returned to the Senate would be for Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to remain Senate majority leader, which underscored the national implications of the Louisiana vote.
He also hit her on gun rights, saying that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leads a gun control activist group, was helping bankroll Mrs. Landrieu’s campaign.
“They’re doing whatever they can to get Senator Landrieu re-elected, because Mayor Bloomberg likes her, because she agrees to restrictions upon your Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Cassidy said. “Now the NRA has third-party money coming from me, but at least you know who they are: They’re the NRA.”
The debate mirrored the dynamics of the race, with Mrs. Landrieu and Mr. Cassidy focusing attacks on each other and mostly ignoring Mr. Maness. Mrs. Landrieu also didn’t let slide an opportunity to ding Mr. Maness.
When Mr. Maness was pressed by the moderator about how he would replace $700 billion cut from Medicare as part of the Obamacare law, he said that both sides needed to come to the table to work out a plan.
“My opponent has no plan, as you just heard,” said Mrs. Landrieu.