GOP Opponents Call Landrieu Rubber Stamp For Obama

BATON ROUGE (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's two main Republican opponents Wednesday challenged her seniority in Congress as worthless, saying in the last debate before next week's election that Landrieu uses her clout in lockstep with President Barack Obama.

         The attacks by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness sought to undercut the Democratic senator's central campaign theme: that Louisiana can't afford to give up the 18 years of time she's built up and her chairmanship of the Senate energy committee.

         "This is not the time to change leadership," Landrieu urged.

         Cassidy said: "Sen. Landrieu has clout, but she uses it for Barack Obama. She doesn't use it for us."

         The debate came after more than 236,000 voters already have cast ballots for the Nov. 4 election, through Louisiana's early voting period — about 8 percent of the state's 2.9 million registered voters. The races so far have generated stronger interest than the last midterm congressional elections in 2010.

         Louisiana's only Democratic statewide elected official, Landrieu is targeted by Republicans nationally who are trying to gain six seats and retake control of the Senate.

         Cassidy and Maness frame the senator as a rubber stamp for Obama, who is unpopular in Louisiana, while Landrieu tries to distance herself, saying she has voted for policies based on how they will impact her home state.

         "I've worked with three presidents. I've worked with four majority leaders. I've worked with six governors. I've been able to move an energy agenda forward regardless of who was there," she said.

         Maness, running a distant third in the polls, said while Landrieu supports expanded oil and gas exploration and the Keystone XL pipeline, she also backed Obama appointees who want to stifle energy expansion with regulations and her political action committee funnels money to candidates who fight oil and gas interests.

         Landrieu broke with Obama on several fronts in the debate, saying she disagrees with his proposed ozone regulations and she supports a 21-day quarantine for health care workers who have been treating patients with Ebola.

         While Cassidy and Maness were largely united in their attacks against Landrieu, the three candidates split on immigration and a question of how to treat people who came to the United States illegally.

         "Go home. They need to be repatriated," Maness replied.

         Cassidy criticized Obama as not doing enough to secure the nation's border, and said he won't consider discussions of how to deal with those already in the country illegally until the border is secure.

         Landrieu talked about the need to find a "path forward" for the people already here.

         The candidates aligned along party lines when asked about Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's refusal to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care law.

         Landrieu called the refusal "tragic," saying it keeps 252,000 working people from getting health insurance. She accused Cassidy, a doctor who worked for years at a charity hospital, of living off a salary paid with Medicaid dollars, but then refusing to help people access the program.

         "Medicaid is the illusion of coverage without the power of access," Cassidy said.

         He described Medicaid as a broken system that shouldn't be expanded, and Maness echoed the criticism.

         Though the Landrieu campaign insists the race could be won next week, polls indicate the Senate seat will be decided Dec. 6. The runoff election is set if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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