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Louisiana Senate Candidates Debate Iraq, Weapons Ban

Republican Rep. David Vitter and the three Democrats, Rep. Chris John, state Treasurer John Kennedy and state Rep. Arthur Morrell, gathered for a one-hour forum at Xavier University, where they politely differed on a variety of topics, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

John, who has Breaux’s endorsement, is seeking to differentiate himself as the moderate consensus-builder, while Kennedy is taking a more populist approach, criticizing the Bush administration for tax cuts he says mainly favor the wealthy, according to the Times-Picayune.

But at the debate, the two showed few clear-cut differences with both opposing private school vouchers for children in “failing” schools and pledging to fight any congressional attempts to close military bases in their state.

Although both said they favored the expiration of the assault weapons ban, which they said did little to stem crime, Kennedy commented that he would prefer to try another kind of weapons ban, though he did not offer specifics.

On Iraq, John, who voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war, said the war was “absolutely, unequivocally the right thing to do,” and the focus should now be on extricating America from the conflict and forging a broader international coalition to help rebuild the country, the Times-Picayune reported.

Kennedy did not say whether he agreed with the decision to go to war, but said if elected he would pursue a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops and seek to share more of the burden of reconstruction with Iraqis.

Vitter also said he “fully supported” the war in Iraq, though he acknowledged that America entered the conflict with wrong information since weapons of mass destruction were never found.

Morrell was the only candidate to come out squarely against the war and speak in favor of the assault weapons ban, which expired this month.

Three other candidates, Democrat Sam Houston Melton Jr. and Richard Fontanesi and R.A. “Skip” Galan, who are running without party affiliation, did not participate in the forum because they have not registered at least 3 percent of the vote in any polls.

A recent poll showed Vitter in the lead with 42 percent of the vote, Kennedy at 19 percent, John with 16 percent and Morrell with 3 percent, according to National Journal.

Kennedy recently received an endorsement from Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who touted the treasurer’s public finance experience. Jefferson’s backing is seen as a setback for John, who not only has Breaux’s endorsement but that of the national party, Roll Call reported.

Louisiana’s unusual election rules say a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win on Nov. 2, or the top two candidates — regardless of party — enter a runoff on Dec. 4.

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