Edwards, Vitter Tangle In First Debate Of Runoff Campaign

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter sought to draw policy contrasts Monday with his Democratic opponent in the Louisiana governor's race, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, as the two men faced off for the first time in the runoff campaign.

         But Vitter also was pressed to talk about his 2007 prostitution scandal, allegations he paid a firm to secretly film political opponents and attack ads, in a volley of questions from reporters at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

         The runoff election is Nov. 21.

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         Vitter, who is lagging in the polls, said he and Edwards have "starkly different" voting records and political philosophies, as he sought to portray Edwards as a liberal, out of step with values in the conservative state. He said Edwards was allied with unions and trial lawyers, opposed charter school expansion and would work against Louisiana business interests.

         "His campaign, quite frankly, is built on some sort of a myth that he's a conservative," Vitter said.

         Edwards said he has a record in the state Legislature of working with members of both parties and said he operates in the "center of the political spectrum." He suggested Vitter was divisive and described himself as someone who would unite the people of Louisiana.

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         "We cannot have someone who comes from a dysfunctional Washington political environment," Edwards said.




         Candidates and outside groups lodged a barrage of attack ads ahead of the primary election, but Edwards had largely stayed out of the fray until the runoff. His campaign recently unveiled an ad striking at Vitter for his eight-year-old prostitution scandal.

         Edwards defended the move.

         "I am a patient man, but after weeks and weeks and weeks of negative ads that are just flat out false, filled with lies and distortions about me and my record, I decided it was time to fight back, and I fought back against lies with the truth," Edwards said.

         Vitter apologized in 2007 for a "very serious sin" after he was linked through phone records to Washington's "D.C. Madam." Echoing a new ad he released Monday, Vitter said he "failed my family."

         "I pledge to voters to work hard every single day to regain their trust and confidence," he said.




         Vitter resisted suggestions that he set the attack-heavy tone for the election, saying he's been struck by candidates and outside groups "in harsh and negative ways" for months.

         But Edwards said Vitter crossed the line when a private investigator working for the Vitter campaign was accused of secretly filming a state senator, the Jefferson Parish sheriff and others at a Metairie coffee shop. The man was arrested and faces a misdemeanor charge.

         Vitter called it a "silly coffee shop incident."

         "That person in the coffee shop was doing nothing improper, nothing illegal," he said.

         Edwards replied: "It's serious. And it shows the desperation that's at work."

         Vitter said the investigator was researching "what I think was an illegal scheme" to pay for false statements against Vitter. He said he's contacted federal authorities, but he refused to provide further details of his allegations.

         Edwards said he had no idea what Vitter was talking about, but he said it appeared designed to "divert people's attention away from the fact that David Vitter paid for a private investigator to go into a coffee shop and spy on a sheriff."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte




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