Senate candidates talk clout

In their first joint appearance on the campaign trail, the three candidates argued about clout Saturday, acknowledging the way the rest of the world is viewing the race for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana.

Appearing before the Louisiana Municipal Association, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy described the race as a historic moment that will decide the future of the nation by determining whether Republicans or Democrats make up the majority of the Senate.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, countered that working in the upper chamber for three terms has given her the respectability and gravitas to reach across party lines to overcome problems.

First-time candidate Rob Maness argued that Washington needs new blood because the system is dysfunctional and goes from crisis to crisis.

The candidates spoke about 15 minutes each while about 1,000 local mayors, parish leaders and other elected officials ate cheesecake. Though the candidates addressed sheriffs at their convention in Destin, Florida, last week, each appeared on a different day.

Much of the narrative by political pundits has been that several Democratic incumbents, including Landrieu, are vulnerable. If they lose, Republicans will take control of the Senate, as the GOP has done in the House.

It’s a dynamic that Cassidy, the Baton Rouge Republican, mentioned at least three times in his speech.

“This is not just a personal decision. It is a decision for all time,” Cassidy said, adding that historians a century from now would look back on this Senate race in Louisiana as the one that decided which party controlled the U.S. Senate.

“If we do it, the historian will write, the country changed, the result was better,” Cassidy said. His speech focused primarily on comparing himself to Landrieu in the context of a GOP majority in the Senate. He barely mentioned Maness, a tea party favorite, who is running as a more conservative Republican. When he did, Cassidy mangled the pronunciation of his opponent’s name.

Two reporters from the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Tokyo newspaper with 13 million readers, came to Baton Rouge to cover the event as part of a larger article on the impact the Louisiana Senate race will have on national politics.

“I have no voters in Japan, but it’s interesting,” Landrieu told journalist Mineko Tokito after the speeches were over. “I have a very centrist record. We need more of that in Washington. The problem with Washington right now is that people are voting for their party and not for their states.”

Landrieu countered that her tenure in Washington has helped her reach across partisan divides to solve problems. She pointed to the bipartisan efforts to attain World Heritage designation for Poverty Point, in northeast Louisiana, and for changing the flood insurance program that threatened many homeowners with traumatic premium hikes. She also pointed to chairmanship of the Senate energy committee, which oversees oil and gas drilling and production.

“I do have clout in the United States Senate,” Landrieu told the LMA. “Eighteen years; the way you get it (clout) is you stay there. You can’t buy it; it’s not given to you. You have to earn it. But that clout is not my clout, it’s yours.”

Maness said the problem in Washington is too many politicians staying there too long.

“Washington won’t fix itself. The people who have been there for too long are part of the establishment and cannot police themselves. In fact, until we can replace them, we need to police them,” Maness said.

He mentioned that while visiting with the owner of Chick-A-Dilly, a chain of seven fast food restaurants in north Louisiana, he noticed a Sonic franchise across the street had closed.

“This Chick-A-Dilly is just one of thousands of examples of Louisiana enterprises that took on larger and better funded competitors and won because they were more in tune with the people,” Maness said.

All the candidates agree that Congress should approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, a controversial project that would ship raw oil from western Canada to the Texas Gulf coast. Environmentalists and some members of Congress have raised questions about the project.

“Where is the Keystone Pipeline?” Maness said. “Where are the jobs? If you want to talk about clout, where are they? Where have they been?”

Cassidy credits Landrieu for pushing approval of the Keystone Pipeline out of the Senate Energy committee. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hasn’t set a vote on the issue.

“I would argue that as long as Harry Reid is majority leader, we’re never going to get a vote on Keystone,” Cassidy said.

Landrieu said she uses her leadership on the Senate energy committee to pressure opponents on issues like Keystone.

“I don’t work for President (Barack) Obama, I work for the people of this state,” Landrieu said. “President Obama is only going to be president for two more years. This race is about who is going to serve Louisiana for the next six years.”

Candidates are required to officially file their intentions later this month for the Nov. 4 election. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes, the two top vote-getters will face off in a December runoff.