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U.S. Senate Candidates Debate


  At the Oct. 27 U.S. Senate candidates debate hosted by WDSU-TV, incumbent Sen. David Vitter and Democratic challenger Rep. Charlie Melancon were joined by four third-party candidates: Randall Todd Hayes (Libertarian), William McShan (Reform Party), Mike Spears (Independent) and state Rep. Ernest Wooton (Independent). Melancon and Vitter, predictably, took plenty of swipes at each other, but Wooton — like Glenn Close in the movie Basic Instinct — would not be ignored. "I know you don't recognize this, David," he told Vitter, "but we're your opponents, too."

  In response to moderator Norman Robinson's first question on family values, Vitter trotted out his "serious sins" line and then changed the subject, but Wooton would have none of it. In acid tones, he hammered Vitter for continuing to employ aide Brent Furer despite Furer's arrest for drunk driving and conviction on domestic-violence charges. Even Wooton's closing statement was a jeremiad: "I am a very serious candidate for senator," he said. "David Vitter is a hypocrite."

  The following night, at WWL-TV's debate, it was Melancon who came out swinging. "Mr. Vitter has a problem with truth," he said, referring repeatedly to Vitter's prostitute scandal as "illicit activities" and calling him "a pathological liar." In a moment reminiscent of Lloyd Bentsen's takedown of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate, Melancon said quietly, "David, you've never had family values."

  It was Vitter's first live-television appearance in which he was called to account for his serious sin, though he declined to say just what that was when asked. "I have received forgiveness from my wife, from my family and from my God," he said. Asked repeatedly by the moderators if he broke the law, Vitter continued to dodge the question. "I think the voters of Louisiana heard me and understood me," he said. "I'm looking forward, not backward." Shortly after, he expressed support for repealing the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted in 1868 during Reconstruction. — Kevin Allman

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