RUSTON, LA (WAFB) - Candidates for Louisiana's Senate seat did not pull punches in their first televised debate of the election cycle. The event was hosted by the Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) and the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) in Ruston.
Many took jabs at State Treasurer John Kennedy, including Republican Congressman John Fleming. Kennedy waived these attacks off as merely the result of his long-held front-runner status.
"We have someone here tonight, John Kennedy, who endorsed John Kerry for president back a ways ago. That was his mentor," said Fleming, calling into question Kennedy's lengthy political career and time as a member of the Democratic party.
Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, meanwhile, criticized Kennedy's ad where he mentions drinking "weed killer," saying he does not take suicide lightly. He also questioned Kennedy's claims about his time in the state legislature.
"You didn't vote on that. You wasn't in the legislature, and you didn't tell the legislature to save that money," Foster said.
At times, the responses from candidates were predictable. On Obamacare, Democrats praised its successes but said there is room for improvement.
"If you repealed the Affordable Care Act, it would never be put back. I'm not willing to do that. 300,000 people have insurance; I'm not about to put them out on the street," Campbell said.
"We're making sure our working people in Louisiana, we're bringing our tax dollars home and making sure they get coverage," said Democratic lawyer Caroline Fayard.
The Republicans, meanwhile, called for doing away with the Affordable Care Act.
"We need to repeal Obamacare, it's the biggest job killer that we have today," Fleming said.
"We need to put the family back in charge of their health care destiny, not insurance bureaucrats, not bureaucrats in Washington," said Republican Congressman Charles Boustany.
Despite the criticisms, however, none of the candidates had specifics for how they would improve Obamacare or what they would replace it with instead.
The candidates also tried to separate themselves in other ways.
"I'm not one of the good ol' boys," Fayard said in her closing statement.
"I'm the only one here up here who will admit that we have man-made global warming," Campbell said.
"No one else on this stage has ever served in the military," said Fleming, who was in the service.
Other topics, meanwhile, drew almost universal agreement. Candidates from both sides of the partisan aisle said FEMA's response to August's historic flooding in Louisiana left much to be desired.
"We need to require FEMA to listen, we need to require FEMA to involve our state officials, our local officials, our levee board officials, and our rate-payers and taxpayers when they're making these decisions," Kennedy said.
"The Stafford Act has to be reformed because FEMA is not flexible," Boustany said.
All candidates were also tentative about the prospect of putting American boots on the ground in foreign conflicts, such as those currently being waged in the Middle East. They did all, however, say that they would support airstrikes as part of current efforts to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS).
When asked who they would vote for in the presidential race, each candidate threw their support behind the nominee from their respective party.
The candidates will meet up again on November 2 as Raycom Media, which owns WAFB, will be hosting another Senate debate in New Orleans.