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Will La. Senate candidates debate?

MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - With only two months remaining before November's election, the three major candidates in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race have rarely appeared at the same events and never in a head-to-head debate. How many of those will happen remains unclear.

Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, seeking a fourth term in office, has agreed to participate in five debates throughout the month of October, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Monroe and Shreveport.

Republican and tea party favorite Rob Maness, a political newcomer who is running a distant third, has said he'll participate in many more if the other candidates would only sign up.

The holdout for a confirmed debate schedule is Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, whose campaign has committed publicly to one match-up: an Oct. 14 debate in Shreveport to be televised statewide.

Cassidy's campaign manager Joel DiGrado said in early August that the congressman would evaluate debate requests after the election sign-up, "after the field of candidates is formalized."

That period ended more than two weeks ago, and Cassidy's spokesman refused Tuesday to answer questions about whether the congressman will square off with his fellow contenders in any other events besides the Shreveport debate.

Louisiana's Senate race is being closely watched around the nation. Republicans consider Landrieu vulnerable, and she is targeted in a GOP effort to gain six Senate seats and retake the majority. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 4 election, the race will head to a Dec. 6 runoff, becoming the last Senate seat to be decided across the country.

Landrieu's campaign has repeatedly criticized Cassidy's refusal to outline a debate schedule, calling it disrespectful to voters.

"Sen. Landrieu will be at a debate talking about the issues important to Louisianians, but voters are still waiting to hear if Congressman Cassidy will actually participate in that conversation or whether they will be presented with an empty chair," Landrieu campaign spokesman Fabien Levy said in a statement.

Cassidy's campaign spokesman John Cummins verified Tuesday that the Republican congressman plans to be on a Shreveport stage with Landrieu and Maness for the Oct. 14 debate hosted by the Council for A Better Louisiana and Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Beth Courtney, the public broadcasting network's president, said the debate will help inform the electorate before choosing a candidate, describing that as "essential for our democracy to work."

Maness, a retired Air Force colonel running without the support of the GOP establishment, criticizes both Landrieu and Cassidy about the debate schedule, suggesting even Landrieu's commitments to five candidate forums isn't enough.

"Hiding from the voters and ducking debates is not an option. From growing the economy to reforming our broken education system, Louisiana's voters deserve to know where we stand and what we'll fight for in Washington," Maness said in a written statement.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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