Wednesday, November 11, 2015

John Bel Edwards to David Vitter: 'You are a liar, and you are a cheater, and I don't tolerate that'

Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter met for the first Louisiana gubernatorial debate of their runoff campaign on Tuesday night, and there was no love lost between the two candidates.

Vitter’s history with prostitutes, an issue that has been dominating the campaign in recent weeks, did not bubble up to the surface until the last minutes of the debate. Then, Edwards attacked Vitter for what he called "extracurricular activities," as well as allegations that he hired a private detective to investigate political opponents. The candidates' acrimonious exchanges culminated with Edwards admonishing Vitter, "You are a liar, and you are a cheater, and I don't tolerate that." (Video here.)

In the first 50 minutes of the debate, the candidates had actually found common ground in bashing the state's unpopular Republican governor, Bobby Jindal. Moments after the debate's start, Vitter was contrasting himself with Jindal, whom he called "aloof." Within minutes, Edwards had called Vitter a "virtual Bobby Jindal clone,"  a charge he repeated like a leitmotif throughout the debate, warning for instance that Vitter would mean a "third Bobby Jindal term." More proof of Jindal's unpopularity was apparent when Edwards looked the most frazzled, as he tried to defend himself from Vitter's attack that he voted to approve five of Jindal's eight "horrendous" budgets while sitting in the state legislature.

Edwards took pains to distance himself from national Democrats, most notably by harshly denouncing Common Core standards and criticizing President Obama for rejecting the Keystone pipeline project. But in one of the most important policy disagreements, he stepped up to defend his support for expanding the Medicaid program, calling it an issue of "right versus wrong." "We need to take care of uninsured people in Louisiana," he said. "We are going to expand Medicaid when I am governor."

In another strong moment, Edwards responded to Vitter's criticism that he had voted to give himself pay raises by noting that Vitter makes $40,000 more than when he was first elected to Congress, telling the Republican, "You make more per month than I do in a year." Vitter also referenced a recent Edwards ad accusing the senator of choosing prostitutes over patriots,” saying that Edwards was adopting a “holier than thou” act while going negative. Edwards hit back, telling Vitter, “If it’s a low blow it’s only because that’s where you live, senator.”

The election is on November 21. Early voting runs until Saturday, and 119,381 voters had already cast a ballot by the time the debate started.

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