SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — Tea Party-backed retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness outperformed the political establishment’s expectations during the U.S. Senate debate here Tuesday evening, where he faced off against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and GOP establishment-backed candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
“Answers from” Maness were “advanced candidacy in my book,” Shreveport Times executive editor and general manager Alan English Tweeted post debate. “Good job.”
English added that Landrieu was “polished as expected” and Cassidy “trailed debate scorecard.”
English was one of the four local journalists who moderated the debate.
Mary Matalin, a presidential campaign director for President George H.W. Bush and a powerful GOP consultant, also told Breitbart News that Louisiana voters should take a hard look at Maness over Cassidy and Landrieu in the Senate race. Matalin is the wife of legendary Democratic consultant James Carville, and is widely known for her powerful role in GOP consultant circles. She was the campaign director for George H.W. Bush and worked alongside Karl Rove for Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. She and Carville are both influential in Louisiana politics.
“There will be a run off, and the strongest conservative will win,” Matalin said via email before the debate here Tuesday night. “I like this system; forces real debate. Maness has given a full throated defense of and advocacy for outcome based, common sense solutions. His life, career and commitment to public service are a restorative balm for our contemporary cynical political process.”
Matalin said that it’s “not gonna happen” that Landrieu may end up coming back and winning re-election, so Louisiana should focus its efforts on which Republican it wants to send to the U.S. Senate: Maness or Cassidy?
“It is a pivotal race, not just for control of the Senate but the issues and philosophy of governance that will likely determine the outcome,” Matalin said.
At several points during the debate, Maness seized key issues to draw a distinction between himself and both his opponents–whom he called “career politicians”–but he didn’t go overboard with it, keeping his ideas within the realm of the serious and offering a key third option for Louisiana voters.
“I’m not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling,” Maness said when asked if he’d vote for a compromise on the debt in the coming Congress and about disaster funds in Congress–a major issue in Louisiana. “We’re $17.5 trillion in debt and that’s at national crisis levels.”
Maness, perfectly positioned on the stage for his next line right in the middle of Landrieu and Cassidy, raised both his hands turning his thumbs out to point at Landrieu and Cassidy. He said:
Both of my opponents have voted to raise the debt ceiling consistently previously. But as far as disaster funding goes, absolutely we should make sure that disaster funding gets taken care of. That’s why I proposed a standing disaster fund so disaster funds would flow immediately to victims of disasters, so that there wouldn’t be this debating and Washington nonsense like what happened with the Katrina bill, which had a $50 million indoor rain forest in it for Iowa. Now why did the people of Louisiana have to wait to get aid because of that? There is no reason that anybody can justify for that wasted time.
Maness did have one screw-up early in the debate, but he quickly recovered.
When asked how he’d put Medicare on “stronger ground,” to protect seniors from “rising healthcare costs,” Maness started out strong–but was caught up when the local reporter put him on the spot in a followup.
First we need to restore the $700 billion that have been taken from Medicare first by the Obamacare bill that Sen. Landrieu voted for and then by the Ryan-Murray budget [which was offered by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray] that Congressman Cassidy voted for. Sen. Landrieu, the facts of how much you’ve worked for–or not worked for–the people of Louisiana are really borne out when the mayor of Washington, D.C., says that you’re the senator for Washington, D.C. We need to get Medicare on track and be solvent and we have time to do that. The board of trustees shows it’s going to be solvent for about 20 years. So we have the time and we all need to come to the table together and develop solutions that will work for the people of the 21st century.
The moderator, a local reporter, jumped back in at Maness with a followup question: “Can I follow up with that? Do you have a solution to put forth?”
“We need to come to the table together to find solutions to make Medicare solvent and we have plenty of time to do that as a nation,” Maness responded.
Landrieu, who was up next, seized the opportunity to attack Maness–and she ripped into Cassidy too.
“I support the Medicare program as we know it,” she said. “It’s a very important program for our safety for our seniors. My opponent [Maness] has no plan, as you just heard, and Congressman Cassidy voted to end Medicare as we know it–not cut it, but end it and go to a voucher program. He’s voted for that consistently, and it’s one of the reasons why he just showed up to this debate because for 18 months he’s been running away from his record which I hope will get out tonight.”
But that was really the only time either candidate–Landrieu or Cassidy–fired at Maness. Those two spent most of their time fighting each other, while Maness focused his answers–as English said–on the issues.
Earlier in the debate, during an “icebreaker question” in which each candidate was asked why they first decided to run for office, Cassidy said he first decided to run for public office after Hurricane Katrina. He said:
It was in 2005, Katrina hit Louisiana and there was a sense that our leadership had failed. There was a whole city that was unable to evacuate out of a category four storm at first, and then later on it turns out leadership after the storm failed. And then it turns out perhaps levees had failed because of lack of leadership. I think many of us at that point in Louisiana chose to step forward. After Katrina I led a volunteer group of 300 people to set up a surge hospital within three days to welcome those folks who were fleeing the floodwaters in New Orleans. I think that formative experience at that time in my life led me to begin to run for public office.
Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. Cassidy didn’t run for office until 2008, when he won his U.S. House seat. As such, when Landrieu launched into her opening statement in response to that same question–when did you first decide to run for public office?–she lit into Cassidy over his Katrina statement.
“I’m very interested that one of my opponents, Congressman Cassidy, said that after Katrina because after six years in Washington he voted against disaster aid for Isaac when it hit his own district,” Landrieu said after she laid out how she’s served in government positions since college. “I am very proud to have represented this state honestly, transparently and I think effectively and passionately, to bring aid to victims of disasters and survivors, to fight for new energy policies for our country that will make us energy independent and a whole host of things that are important for leaders to support.”
Probably the clearest example of Cassidy and Landrieu bickering at each other while Maness gave concise answers came when debate moderator Jeremy Alford, the publisher and editor of LAPolitics.com, asked about campaign finance law.
“Let’s turn our attention to campaign finance for a moment, let’s talk about the money that fuels politics,” Alford asked. “There are third party groups, these independent groups, mostly Super PACs, that are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. How do each of you feel about that system? Also, if you could change one campaign finance law right now, what would it be?”
“Politics from what I’ve learned in my short time in the business is a racket for sure,” said Maness, who went first for a reply on that question. “There’s too much money involved. But the federal government shouldn’t get further involved by limiting our free speech. I agree with the Citizens United decision. As things stand right now, unless things were to be able to change, I wouldn’t make any changes to current campaign finance law.”
Landrieu, who went second, attacked Cassidy and the Koch Brothers:
The Koch Brothers and Bill Cassidy have literally orchestrated a $25 million bogus campaign run on television. This is the first debate that he has agreed to show up. Maybe he’s running away from his record and just wants to use the power of unlimited, undisclosed, bogus attack television ads to sneak his way into the United States Senate. I would overturn Citizens United. Corporations are not people. They should not be given unlimited rights to speech. The richer you are, the louder you get to speak. Our democracy is based on one man, one vote, one woman, one vote. The power belongs to the people–not that the rich have the power but all power equally. This really distorts our democracy. You can see it playing out in this exact race in Louisiana. I want to run on my record of 18 years. I’m proud of my record. It’s hard to get your voice over those bogus ads and something needs to change.
Then Cassidy turned around and escalated Landrieu’s attack in his answer:
Boy it’s kind of ironic–if anyone noticed they were outspending our campaign on their side about 5 to 1 before Labor Day. Let’s just be honest. Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who’s all about gun control, put about $50 million into Harry Reid’s PAC, who’s been attacking us. If you noticed, it was five commercials to one before Labor Day and three to one after Labor Day, that was Sen. Reid. You didn’t know that because he had something like ‘paid for by patriot majority’ or something such as that. They’re doing whatever they can to get Sen. Landrieu re-elected, because Mayor Bloomberg likes her because she agrees to restrictions upon your Second Amendment rights. Now the NRA has third party money coming for me, but at least you know who they are. They’re the NRA. They’re supporting the guy who has the NRA endorsement, not the person who has Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement. I like transparency. When Harry Reid pays for an ad, instead of hiding behind some ‘patriot majority PAC’ or exotic sounding Tea Party sounding name, put ‘hey this is Harry Reid and I’m supporting Sen. Mary Landrieu, she was the deciding vote for Obamacare and I need her back.’ That would be the kind of change I would like. Can we put that in law?
Matalin isn’t specifically supporting Maness or Cassidy, but said she “continue[s] to support commonsense, outcome based policies, candidates of fortitude and resolve who know why they are conservative and can advocate with clarity and determination.”
“They each have strengths,” Matalin said about the field as a whole. “Mary has seniority (but that asset needs to be considered in light of Reid’s abominable Senate leadership, or more precisely, lack there of); As a medical professional, Cassidy, were he so inclined to support conservative reform in health care, would be credible on this key issue; Maness has run a classic grassroots, inspirational campaign. The intensity of his support is predicated on his having offered a positive, solutions-based, conservative platform which allows voters to be ‘for’ something, as opposed to against what we can all see isn’t working.”