Analysis: Hard To Distinguish Policy In Crowded LA U.S. Senate Race

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's latest U.S. Senate race has prostitution allegations and a white supremacist candidate, drawing national attention to yet another scandalous state election. But so far, it's lacking in real policy issues to show distinctions among candidates.

         With the Nov. 8 election to fill the open seat only six weeks away and packed with 24 contenders, it may never get there.

         What many voters may have heard about the race is that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is making a bid for the seat and that U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, another contender, is denying he was ever involved with prostitutes.

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         That's not to say policy platforms and ideas can't be found at all in the race. Some forums have delved into areas beyond personality, and some candidates have embraced the concept of answering those questions with direct and detailed answers.

         It's just that a voter will have to dig for the information, and policy distinctions are not at the forefront of ad campaigns — or most candidates' talking points — so far.

         Perhaps the lack of policy details is inevitable when two dozen people are on the ballot and a soundbite or wisecrack can more easily draw attention than an in-the-weeds discussion of the federal health care law or the United States' relationships with other countries.

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         Just as likely the candidates recognize that the finer points of any debate can't fit into a 30-second TV ad and that delving too much into any tricky political issue presents minefields that are easier to skip than navigate.

         And with the race tightening, campaigns in many instances are lashing out at their candidate's opponents more than trying to sketch out policy differences.

         The Senate seat is open because Republican David Vitter isn't running for re-election. A new senator isn't expected to be decided until a Dec. 10 runoff election.

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         For months, Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy has been the front-runner in the race, but an independent poll released last week by Southern Media and Opinion Research shows his grip on that status could be in jeopardy.

         Kennedy was still in the lead in the survey with 17 percent. But Boustany, also a Republican, was close behind at 15 percent, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming had 8 percent in the poll.

         Boustany edged closer to Kennedy even as Boustany's been hit with allegations published in a new book, which cites unnamed sources, that he was involved with prostitutes who were later killed. Boustany has called the allegations "despicable lies."

         Kennedy and Boustany are largely running as though they're the only contenders in the race, ignoring most of the long list of other Republican contenders and letting the Democrats battle among themselves, even though everyone runs together on the same ballot.

         Among the top-polling Democrats, lawyer Caroline Fayard had the support of 11 percent of the voters surveyed in the Southern Media poll. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell was next at 9 percent.

         And those two are slugging it out among themselves, in a similar manner to the competition between Kennedy and Boustany. Both competitions are more about personality and background than showing different opinions on the finer points of policy.

         Duke, who is running as a Republican and polled at 3 percent, seems to be focused most on attracting attention from national and international news publications, as though he's almost forgotten he needs Louisiana voters to win.

         Other Republicans jockeying for the seat include retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao and New Orleans economic development official Abhay Patel. Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert is running without a party affiliation, and oil and gas businessman Josh Pellerin is a Democratic contender.

         The race is far from settled. More than a quarter of those who were polled by Southern Media remained undecided. And the advertising competition is just starting to intensify. A policy point or two could still sneak into the campaign conversation.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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