Gubernatorial candidates spar in first TV debate since runoff

Gubernatorial candidates spar in first TV debate since runoff
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The candidates for Louisiana's highest office sparred Tuesday in the first live television debate of the runoff.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, and State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, did not hold back punches in the debate, which was put on by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

"Your behavior shows that you are a virtual Bobby Jindal clone more concerned with helping friends and your personal gratification than being accountable to taxpayers," said Edwards of his opponent.

"You're not living by some honors code, you're living by some lawyer's code of technicality," said Vitter, referencing several ads released by the Edwards campaign that reference Edwards' military career.

The debate touched on subjects ranging from approach to governance to economics to education.

The topic of charter schools and school vouchers was met with contention. Vitter reiterated his belief that both need to be widely available in the state.

"Choice fundamentally empowers parents especially from poorer families, and teachers, and site based leaders," he said.

Edwards meanwhile took a more nuanced approach.

"I'm going to support charters schools, when charters schools help the parishes and the parishes are obviously in need of help, however I believe in local control of education," he said.

Both candidates agreed that transportation and infrastructure are in need of improvements in Louisiana.

Edwards criticized Vitter's record in Washington with regards to infrastructure.

"As a ranking member on the subcommittee on transportation, you really haven't lifted a finger to help Louisiana finish I-49 or to address the $12 billion backlog on transportation infrastructure projects," he said.

Meanwhile, Vitter defended his record, saying he has brought back tax revenue for infrastructure back to the state.

"We're no longer a donor state. We're getting more back than we send to the federal government because of the reforms and the work that I did with others," he said.

Vitter attempted throughout the debate to connect Edwards with both the current governor and the president.

"You're always talking about fighting Gov. Jindal. In fact there have been eight Bobby Jindal budgets you voted for, you supported five of them," Vitter said.

Edwards did respond, working to separate himself from President Obama.

"Just the other day I stood up to oppose the decision not to go forward with the keystone pipeline because that is the wrong decision for our country and for our state because that would create jobs and energy independence," Edwards said.

Despite the jabs, political analyst Jim Engster said the impact of the debate will likely be very little.

"They largely stayed on message and that means whoever is leading with 11 days to go probably left the winner because there were no knockout blows tonight," he said.

That is arguably good news for Edwards, who has been leading several polls in recent weeks, often by double digits.

Early voting continues through Saturday, November 14. Election day is scheduled for November 21.

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