BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu described her years of seniority in Congress as crucial to helping Louisiana, while her main Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, discarded that clout as being aligned with a Democratic Party that is out of step with Louisiana values.
The Senate candidates, along with Republican and tea party favorite Rob Maness, made their campaign pitches Saturday to local mayors and parish leaders at the Louisiana Municipal Association Convention. The event was a rare moment in which all three contenders in the Nov. 4 election shared a stage.
A Democrat seeking her fourth term in a tight election, Landrieu continued the approach of her past campaigns. She downplayed her party affiliation, distanced herself from the politics of Washington and talked of the work she's done for Louisiana.
She highlighted efforts to preserve jobs at Fort Polk in central Louisiana and the 2006 law she sponsored that will allow Louisiana to get revenue generated from oil and gas drilling off the Gulf Coast.
Landrieu said her seniority — "18 years standing in line" — moved her into a key leadership position for Louisiana, chairing the Senate energy committee.
"Leadership does matter, the kind of leadership that can work across party lines for the benefit of the people, that can be tenacious and tough and strong and effective and deliver. I do have clout in the United States Senate, 18 years. The way you get it is to stay there," she told hundreds of local elected officials.
Cassidy said Landrieu's seniority doesn't matter, because her party is on the wrong side of issues. He said Louisiana's Senate race likely would decide control of the chamber, and he said keeping the Senate in Democratic hands would keep the country headed in the wrong direction.
"If you feel like the direction of the country is going well now, frankly Sen. Landrieu is probably the person that you should support," Cassidy said. "But if you think, wait a second, our economy's not doing well, my health care premiums are sky-high, I'm having to lay people off or reduce their hours in order to afford those premiums ... then I may be your candidate."
Maness, a political newcomer hoping to capitalize off grassroots support from tea party organizations, said Congress was dysfunctional and the only way to improve the situation was to elect people outside of the Washington establishment.
"We need to change today's status quo in Washington, D.C. You see it every day. We go from crisis to crisis," said the retired Air Force colonel.
Landrieu and Cassidy both talked of their successful efforts to lessen skyrocketing flood insurance rates. Cassidy described his opposition to the federal health care law, which is unpopular in Louisiana, while Landrieu didn't mention it — or her vote for its passage.
All three candidates said they support the Keystone XL oil pipeline and increased oil and gas exploration in the energy-rich state.
But Cassidy said while he admired Landrieu for pushing to advance the long-delayed Keystone project, it wouldn't speed the work because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, won't allow a vote on it.
"You want a senator not just with good ideas, but one who is effective," Cassidy said.
After the speech, Landrieu said she's using her leadership of the energy committee to build pressure on issues like the Keystone pipeline and new oil and gas production projects.
"I don't necessarily take orders from the Democratic leadership. My orders come from the people of Louisiana," she said.