Following the first televised debate between Louisiana Senate candidates Sen. Mary Landrieu and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, Landrieu held a brief press conference to slam Republican candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy, who had declined to participate in the debate held at Dillard University, as well as at other forums. Neither Landrieu nor Maness mentioned Cassidy by name during the Oct. 9 debate but Landrieu often referred to "the guy who didn't show up."
"This seat is not up for sale," she continued. "If you're not man enough or strong enough to go to these debates, how in heavens are you going to be strong enough to represent the citizens of Louisiana who deserve tenacity, strength and determination? Landrieu joked that she thought Cassidy was afraid of her, as she knows she has a "temper."
Landrieu consistently is polling below 50 percent, the benchmark to avoid a runoff election in December. Earlier in the week Landrieu shook up her campaign by putting in Ryan Berni — former spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu and head of the mayor's successful re-election campaign — as her new campaign manager, and she also fielded questions about her late-in-the-game, self-described "A team" and whether the move was a "desperate" last-minute attempt. "Do I look desperate?" she said.
The debate — which aired Oct. 10 on WDSU-TV — put polar opposites Landrieu and Maness together for the first time (not including the Alliance for Good Government's non-debate "forum" last week). Both candidates had strong vocal support in the crowd. The most heated moments came during questions about health care and immigration reform. Landrieu admitted the Affordable Care Act "isn't perfect" but is an important measure for people locked into jobs solely for health benefits and people in their 20s who can be enrolled with their parents' plans. Maness, however, called Obamacare "an abomination" and repeated his refrain of "pulling it out by the roots."
"Let's go back to state control before Obamacare came into the picture." Maness said.
Maness — a retired Air Force colonel with Tea Party backing — was confident in his largely hyperbolic and patriotic debate style. When it came to immigration reform, in which Landrieu supports increased border control while also offering a "pathway to citizenship," Maness repeated "secure the border" three times in a row and declared "no amnesty, no citizenship," adding he would rather support employment opportunities for already-legal Americans. Landrieu also said she supported a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour, while Maness wanted to do away with a national minimum wage altogether, saying "I believe in federalism."
Two other U.S. Senate debates are scheduled to air on New Orleans television before the election. WWL-TV will hold a debate between Landrieu and Maness to be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Oct. 27. Cassidy has declined to appear. WWL news anchor Karen Swensen will moderate, and panelists will include journalists from Gannett TV stations and newspapers throughout Louisiana.
On Oct. 29 (one day after early voting closes), all three candidates are scheduled to participate in a debate at WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, which will air locally on WVUE-TV.