Buddy Caldwell Fighting To Hang Onto Job As Attorney General

BATON ROUGE (AP) — In the attack-heavy race for Louisiana attorney general, the focus is squarely on Republican incumbent Buddy Caldwell.

         Opponents in Saturday's election have accused Caldwell of pay-for-play politics, incompetence and office mismanagement. They talk of a "Buddy system" where campaign contributors get large contracts from Caldwell for work that could have been done in-house.

         He's fending off the attacks with criticisms of his own, accusing chief Republican rival Jeff Landry of being a failed and desperate politician "looking for a place to land." And Caldwell says no other candidate has the qualifications he's built over eight years as attorney general and in nearly three decades as a district attorney in rural northeast Louisiana.

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         "The extent of my experience, criminally, civilly, from every standpoint, it's a no-brainer," said Caldwell, who lives in Tallulah. "My people have performed and have recovered billions of dollars for the state."

         The race to be Louisiana's chief lawyer is expected to head to a Nov. 21 runoff. With five candidates vying for the job, it appears unlikely anyone will win more than 50 percent of the vote outright.

         The state Republican Party has backed Landry, a former congressman and tea party favorite. The Louisiana Democratic Party is backing Geri Broussard Baloney, a trial lawyer.

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         Also on Saturday's ballot are Port Allen lawyer Marty Maley, a Republican and assistant district attorney in West Baton Rouge Parish, and Democrat Ike Jackson of Plaquemine, a former assistant attorney general who's done little fundraising or advertising.

         The heftiest spending comes from Caldwell and Landry, with Landry's campaign consistently attacking Caldwell for his performance in office.

         "I'm going out there and just telling voters that if you want to continue the corruption, the cronyism that has been going on in the attorney general's office, then vote for Buddy Caldwell. But if you want to point the office in the right direction, vote for me," said Landry, of New Iberia, who lost re-election to Congress when his district was merged with another incumbent.

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         Landry points to millions of dollars in contracts to handle legal work involving the BP oil spill that went to Caldwell campaign donors and multiple contracts in which the attorney general's office hired lawyers who work for Caldwell's campaign.

         Caldwell says the state has gotten record recoveries from hiring the best lawyers available to handle Medicaid fraud cases and litigation against pharmaceutical companies. He says his office and the outside lawyers helped get $8.7 billion in settlement money Louisiana expects to receive over damages caused by BP's catastrophic 2010 Gulf oil spill.

         The Republican Party of Louisiana and many parish GOP leaders, however, are supporting Landry amid skepticism about Caldwell's loyalty since he switched from the Democratic Party in 2011.

         Baloney criticized Caldwell as spending too much time fighting President Barack Obama's health overhaul and other federal issues. Baloney, who lives in Garyville, called it a waste of resources "trying to convince the right wing, tea party faction of the Republican Party that he is really a Republican."

         The Louisiana attorney general, she said, should be focused on upholding the constitution and laws of the state and reforming the criminal justice system.

         Landry's campaign has spent at least $1.2 million, nearly $275,000 more than Caldwell. Baloney spent about $25,000, skipping TV advertising in favor of radio spots.

         "They've spent the money criticizing each other and exposing each other's flaws so I don't have to do that," Baloney said.

         Maley poured $356,000 into the race — much of it his own money — but he's struggled to gain a foothold in the GOP competition. He said the attacks traded between his opponents will help him get noticed by voters.

         "I've let Jeff just grind away on Buddy. My approach has been to run a very positive and upbeat campaign," Maley said. "The fact that I have not gone negative is resonating with people."

         This story has been corrected to show that Landry's campaign has spent at least $1.2 million, rather than $2.2 million, removing loan repayments he made to himself from the tally.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte




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