BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy is skipping Monday night's TV debate in Louisiana's Senate race.
Cassidy's absence gives Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican tea party favorite Rob Maness the opportunity to criticize him to a statewide audience without him on stage to defend himself.
The debate will be held in New Orleans and aired in most media markets around Louisiana, with a week remaining before the Nov. 4 election.
Louisiana's Senate race is being closely watched around the nation. Landrieu is the only Democratic statewide elected official in a state that supported Mitt Romney in 2012 and where Obama is unpopular. The incumbent senator is targeted in a Republican effort to gain six Senate seats and retake the majority.
If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote next week, the race will head to a Dec. 6 runoff.
It won't be Cassidy's first debate no-show. He skipped a face-to-face matchup in New Orleans earlier this month.
Landrieu, vulnerable to ouster as she seeks a fourth term in office, agreed to five TV debates, while Cassidy refused all but two of them. Maness, a retired Air Force colonel running a long-shot campaign, sought even more. Only one debate has featured all three so far.
Both the Landrieu and Maness campaigns have accused Cassidy of dodging events where he'd have to talk in more detail about his policy positions. Landrieu has played up Cassidy's debate absences in her campaign appearances.
"This guy won't even show up at a debate," Landrieu told a group of senior citizens. "A year and a half we've been running. He showed up one time. I thought he was afraid of me. I think he's afraid of y'all."
Cassidy is taking on the role traditionally held by an incumbent, using a play-it-safe approach on the campaign trail designed to avoid gaffes that can knock him off his message that a vote for Landrieu is a vote for President Barack Obama. Landrieu is comfortable in debates after three election cycles of them, while Cassidy seems less at ease in the setting.
Before early voting Monday in Baton Rouge, Cassidy said prepping for Monday night's debate would have kept him from other campaign events, like a planned afternoon tour of a charter school to highlight dyslexia awareness month.
"In this campaign I have to meet as many voters as possible," he said.
He noted he'll be participating Wednesday in a statewide TV debate against Landrieu and Maness — though that debate comes after Louisiana's early voting period wraps up a day earlier.
"Let me point out, we are debating in two days. I think we'll have more than enough time to ask Sen. Landrieu why she supports Barack Obama 97 percent of the time," Cassidy said.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Mon, October 27, 2014
by MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press