BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said Monday that she is "not backing up" from President Barack Obama, but she also insisted that she had a record of bipartisanship during Louisiana's latest Senate race debate.
The three-term senator squared off on a New Orleans stage with long-shot Republican candidate Rob Maness, while the race's main GOP contender, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, skipped the TV debate.
With only a week before the Nov. 4 election, Landrieu stuck to her campaign theme that she makes decisions based on how they will impact Louisiana, not whether the policies are supported by the Democratic president.
"I keep my eyes on the people of Louisiana, fighting for them every day regardless of who is in power," Landrieu said at the debate, hosted by WWL-TV and Gannett Louisiana Newspapers and aired in most media markets statewide.
When asked about Republicans' repeated claim that Landrieu votes with Obama 97 percent of the time, Landrieu replied that Cassidy has voted for nearly all the bills that the president has signed into law. But she added: "I am not backing up from the things that I have supported President Obama on."
The incumbent senator, however, distanced herself slightly from the Democratic Party's leader in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid. While Landrieu had previously said she would vote to re-elect Reid to the position if Democrats maintain Senate control, she hedged Monday night when asked if she would support the Nevada senator.
"I am going to wait to see what the leadership looks like," Landrieu said. "We'll see. I think Harry Reid gets beat up more than he deserves. And I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no."
Maness, a tea party favorite and retired Air Force colonel, said Obama's policies were on the ballot and Landrieu should be judged by her support for them. He described himself as the only true conservative in the race and said Cassidy was too heavily influenced by Republican Party leadership.
While the two sparred on issues including immigration and health care, Landrieu also spent much of her time attacking Cassidy for avoiding the event altogether. At one point she referenced "our other opponent who's not here."
"He does a lot of talking, but not a lot of showing up."
Louisiana's Senate race is being closely watched around the nation. Landrieu is the only Democratic statewide elected official in a state that supported Mitt Romney in 2012 and where Obama is unpopular. The incumbent senator is targeted in a Republican effort to gain six Senate seats and retake the majority. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote next week, the race will head to a Dec. 6 runoff.
Cassidy is taking on the role traditionally held by an incumbent, using a play-it-safe approach designed to avoid gaffes. Landrieu is comfortable in debates after three election cycles of them, while Cassidy seems less at ease in the setting.
Cassidy noted he'll be participating Wednesday in a statewide TV debate against Landrieu and Maness — though that debate comes after Louisiana's early voting period wraps up.
"I think we'll have more than enough time to ask Sen. Landrieu why she supports Barack Obama 97 percent of the time," Cassidy said.