Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) walked a fine line between supporting the Democratic agenda while also distancing herself from the party in the first Senate debate with the race’s top three candidates.
Her chief opponent, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, repeatedly chided the three-term senator for siding with President Obama, and painted her as his rubber stamp.
While Landrieu backed mainstream Democrats’ views on issues like campaign finance, disaster funding and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the vulnerable incumbent also offered more nuanced answers on global warming and ObamaCare.
“I do believe our climate is changing and I do believe that humans contribute; however, we have to be very careful about the policies that we promote,” she said, arguing that fossil fuels could help decrease America’s energy dependence. “I do not agree with President Obama on his energy policies.”
Cassidy and Tea Party-backed Rob Maness, the third candidate in the race, both said they were skeptical about whether humans have contributed to climate change.
Landrieu and Maness previously debated earlier this month, but Tuesday night marked the first time Cassidy faced his two opponents. Thanks to the state’s “jungle primary” system on Election Day, the top two candidates will move on to a December runoff unless one wins a majority of the vote. Landrieu currently leads in most Election Day polling, but is below the 50 percent threshold. With just two candidates in the race, Cassidy leads thanks to additional support from former Maness voters.
The debate got a bit lighter when moderators asked the three candidates to rate both Obama and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on a scale of one to 10. Cassidy initially declined, eliciting laughs from the otherwise subdued audience. But after some prodding, both Cassidy and Maness gave Obama a zero, with Cassidy saying that the president will "go down as one of the worst presidents.” Landrieu said she’d give Obama either a six or seven.
On healthcare, Landrieu mostly embraced her support of ObamaCare, while also calling for a cheaper option as well as tweaks to allow insurance agents to sell plans. But both Republicans were united in their strong opposition to the law, which Maness called an “abomination” and Cassidy tied to the sputtering economy.
“Low-income workers — the bottom fifth, if you will — have had their hours reduced from 40 to 30 or even laid off as employers have worked to avoid the penalties of ObamaCare,” he said. “If we want to do something about income inequality, we should repeal ObamaCare.”
Both Landrieu and Maness hit Cassidy on his plan to slowly raise the retirement age to help make Social Security more soluble in the future while not harming those who currently receive benefits or will soon be eligible.
Landrieu countered by calling the issue a “very bad policy,” describing it as one of the main issues at stake in the election. She said that it’s impossible to work in some jobs until age 70 and that Cassidy’s plan would disadvantage those with lower life expectancies.
“In Madison Parish, African Americans’ life expectancy is 71 years old,” she said. “I’ve got plenty of people in my state that aren’t living long because their healthcare is not very good.”
On disaster relief funding, a key issue to a state that’s faced significant hurricane damage over the past 10 years, Landrieu accused Cassidy of voting against relief funds for Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac. Cassidy had wanted the spending to be offset by other cuts.
Maness touted his own idea: a permanent disaster fund that would take the politicking out of the issue. He cited the Hurricane Katrina bill that set aside $50 million for an indoor rainforest in Iowa.
“Why did the people in Louisiana have to wait to get aid because of that?” he asked. “There is no reason that anyone can justify for that waiting time.”
The three candidates will meet in just one more televised debate on Oct. 29 at Louisiana State University before Election Day.