Vitter, Edwards Trade Attacks In First TV Debate Of Runoff

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter ripped into each other's records and challenged each other's integrity Tuesday in the first televised debate of the runoff campaign, less than two weeks ahead of the Nov. 21 election.

         Voices were raised, fingers were pointed and accusations were traded in a format that gave the two men the rare opportunity to repeatedly question each other directly, using sharp attacks within their queries.

         In the final minutes of the debate, Vitter and Edwards talked over each other in an angry exchange about campaign tactics.

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         Vitter, a U.S. senator, accused Edwards of acting "holier than thou" while running an attack ad against him and being allies of trial lawyers who have run an "Anybody But Vitter" campaign.

         "You're not living by the honor code, John Bel. You're living by the lawyer code," Vitter told Edwards, a lawyer who graduated from West Point and references the military academy's honor code in his speeches.

         Edwards, a state representative, accused Vitter of hiring a private investigator to spy on the Jefferson Parish sheriff. He also defended his TV spot, which suggests Vitter missed a vote to honor soldiers because of a phone call from a prostitution service. Vitter apologized in 2007 for a "very serious sin" after he was linked through phone records to Washington's "D.C. Madam."

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         "I understand you don't like it. It hits you where you live," Edwards said. He later added: "You are a liar, and you are a cheater."

         Vitter struck at Edwards for supporting a pay raise for lawmakers that was later vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Edwards criticized Vitter's time in Congress, saying he's missed more votes than most of his colleagues and passed few bills.

         "The fact of the matter is you've been terribly ineffective in the Senate," Edwards said.

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         Vitter replied that Edwards was distorting his record, and he listed flood insurance, water resources and hurricane recovery legislation he helped to pass.

         "It's a very full, robust record of bipartisan accomplishments," he said.

         Edwards sought to tie Vitter to Jindal, the term-limited Republican governor who is unpopular at home while he runs for president. Vitter tried to link Edwards to Democratic President Barack Obama, whose disapproval ratings in Louisiana rival Jindal's.

         "If you think the president poses the biggest threat to the state of Louisiana, then you need to stay in Washington and deal with it," Edwards said.

         While Edwards has framed the race as a decision based on character and integrity, suggesting Vitter doesn't possess those, Vitter in recent days has attempted to draw stark policy contrasts between the two.

         "We have completely different records, which I think suggests we'd lead in vastly different directions," Vitter said.

         The Republican senator said Edwards was opposed to educational options such as charter schools and vouchers, which Vitter said provide more choice to parents and children from poor families.

         "He's been doing the work and charting the course of the teacher unions, not the parents," Vitter said.

         Edwards said he wouldn't seek to end the voucher program as governor, but would push to make the program that provides taxpayer-financed tuition to private schools only for students in failing public schools. And he said while he supports charter schools, he wants local school boards to have more control over where they open.

         Vitter was hoping to gain ground through the debate, hosted by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the Council for A Better Louisiana. Vitter has surprisingly lagged behind Edwards in the polls, after a blistering, attack-heavy primary campaign in which he battled two GOP opponents and voters were reminded of his years-old prostitution scandal.

         Edwards is trying to reverse a trend against his party in Louisiana, which hasn't elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte




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