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Debate Forecast: Superficial
While cautious candidates and television's culture of sound bites might drain any actual debating from the upcoming U.S. Senate debates, communications experts contend the forums still hold value for voters. This year, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the incumbent Democrat, and state Treasurer John Kennedy, a Republican, have agreed to four public exchanges. All but one will be televised, which translates into rigid time restrictions. Such format hurdles contribute to a general decline in substance during political debates, according to Dr. Michael Pfau, chair of the communication department at the University of Oklahoma and author of Televised Presidential Debates: Advocacy in Contemporary America. Pfau says the average political sound bite on the evening news has gone from nearly a minute in the 1960s to roughly 8 seconds today. That's why candidates feel the need to rehash their prime-time commercials during debates. "Almost everything is superficial," he adds. "It's all about format. The essence of debate is depth of responses and clashes, and instead all you have time for are talking points." Still, Pfau says debates have the potential to transform an election into a landslide. He cites the 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, when Reagan's performance helped convince voters he wasn't an extremist, as an example. Closer to home, in 2003, the final debate between Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal proved to be decisive. The candidates were asked to name a defining moment in their lives. Blanco tearfully recounted how challenging it was to hold together her family and faith following the death of her 19-year-old son. Many still credit that moment for Blanco's victory.


The Alphabet Soup
Talks The CEOs of CABL and LPB, the state's PBS affiliate, will host their own U.S. Senate candidate forum at LSU on Oct. 12. The Council for A Better Louisiana and Louisiana Public Broadcasting have attempted to build a format that allows the candidates to "engage each other" while still maintaining a strict timeline. "There will be time allotted where there might be an opportunity for the candidates to address each other during follow-ups or other occasions," CABL President Barry Erwin says. Questions will come chiefly from Erwin or LPB President Beth Courtney. University and college representatives in the crowd will be allowed to ask questions as well, but they will be screened, Erwin says. Additionally, CABL has set criteria for participants. The candidates must have recorded at least 5 percent in a recognized poll or raised and spent at least $250,000 on their respective campaigns.


Hands Off My Obama!
State Rep. Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge hopes to ride the Barack Obama Express like a true Democrat, which he was until a few months ago — before "no party" replaced his official Democratic party affiliation on the ballot. In the race to capture the Sixth Congressional District, Jackson bills himself as an "independent Democrat" and claims ties to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. That Obama will play a big role in Louisiana's congressional races is no surprise. When incumbent Congressman Don Cazayoux sought the Sixth District seat in a May special election, Republican forces accused him of supporting Obama's "radical agenda." The New Roads Democrat sidestepped questions then about whom he was supporting for the White House, and the GOP's guilt-by-association strategy failed. In an interesting turn of events, Obama endorsed Cazayoux last month, to little fanfare. A Google search of Cazayoux's campaign Web site reveals no mention of the endorsement — or of Obama. Katie Nee, Cazayoux's campaign manager, says the congressman isn't backing away from the nod. "I'll take an endorsement over a logo any day," she says, referring to Jackson's campaign graphics that link him to Obama. For now, Cazayoux touts one of his own polls showing him with a more than 2-to-1 lead among African-American voters (Cazayoux, 59 percent; Jackson, 26 percent). The Jackson campaign questions those figures. Overall, Cazayoux has a 16-point lead in the survey over Dr. Bill Cassidy, a Republican state senator from Baton Rouge (48 percent to 32 percent). Jackson trails with roughly 9 percent, with 11 percent undecided.


Shrimpers Still Struggling
A new study of the state's shrimp market reveals dockside prices are continuing to drop, causing even more headaches for what has become a troubled sector of Louisiana's diverse economy. Despite this pricing trend — and worries over fuel costs, availability of ice and foreign competition — Louisiana continues to be a national leader in the commercial harvest of shrimp. A study by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is anchored by a series of interviews with 52 Louisiana shrimp dealers. Among its key findings is a steady decrease in the price of dockside shrimp since 2000 — a pattern commercial fishermen have reported anecdotally for more than a decade. The national average price in 2000 was $2.20 per pound, a hefty sum compared to the $1.25 rate from 2006, the most recent year in the LDWF study. The study found that dockside shrimp prices in south Louisiana likewise fell during that six-year window, spiraling from $1.65 per pound to 95 cents a pound. Dr. Jack Isaacs, LDWF economist and the study's author, says he undertook the project to gather a better understanding of Louisiana's market in the face of domestic shrimp prices. "More specifically, we wanted to examine the pivotal role of dockside shrimp dealers in the marketing chain," Isaacs says. The data will help the department develop management recommendations, says Martin Bourgeois, a (LDWF) marine fisheries biologist. "Providing greater economic opportunities for Louisiana shrimpers and businesses within the marketing chain is critical to sustaining economic viability within Louisiana's most valuable commercial fishery," Bourgeois adds. According to the report, the Gulf of Mexico accounts for 84 percent, or 289 million pounds, of all commercially harvested U.S. shrimp. The Gulf can also take credit for 86 percent, or $343 million, of the nation's dockside value. Meanwhile, Louisiana led all Gulf states in harvesting shrimp at 46 percent, or 135 million pounds, of the water's bounty. Yet, when it comes to dockside value in Gulf states, Louisiana's 35 percent share, or $121 million, is second to Texas.


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