BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's dueling Republican congressmen, Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry, squared off Wednesday in their only debate before next week's election, calling each other liars and trying to stake out differences in a race where both men have positioned themselves as conservatives.
Boustany, who is seeking a fifth term, described his GOP opponent as a "typical good ol' boy politician who will say anything to get elected" and who habitually skipped votes in Congress because he was running for re-election.
He accused Landry of spreading "malicious lies and distortions in order to distract voters from his lack of accomplishments and from serious questions about his moral integrity."
Landry, a freshman lawmaker and tea party favorite, said Boustany lacked the courage to make tough votes and instead followed in lockstep with Washington Republican leaders even if south Louisiana voters didn't support the policy.
"Charles goes to Washington and votes like John Boehner wants him to," Landry said, referring to the House speaker.
Even when asked how to bring civil discourse back into politics, the two men used the question to attack each other during the hour-long debate, held on Lafayette talk radio station KPEL 96.5 FM.
The men were forced into the same district representing southwest Louisiana and Acadiana when the state lost a congressional seat as a result of population shifts as reflected in the U.S. Census. Three other candidates also are in the 3rd District race, but have done little fundraising and weren't invited to Wednesday's debate.
On many issues, the two incumbents offer few distinctions in platform. They both oppose President Barack Obama's health care law, and both talk of a need for cutting spending and the national debt.
They bickered about who passed legislation and who was a more effective representative, and they slammed each other for campaign support from Washington lobbying groups.
Boustany criticized Landry for missing 107 votes during his single term in Congress, including votes on energy issues, veterans' assistance and embassy protection. Landry accused Boustany of mischaracterizing the missed votes missed and said he was home working on constituent issues.
"I was back here because they were playing games up there. They were naming post offices," Landry said. He added, "They don't pay us to vote. They pay us to lead."
Boustany shot back, "He talks about leadership. I think you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Mr. Landry obviously can't do that."
Boustany repeatedly invoked the name of the GOP's vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, calling him a close friend with whom he's worked on cost-cutting proposals. Boustany said Ryan came to him for advice on his budget ideas.
"Paul and I have worked very closely together on this budget along with other serious conservatives," Boustany said.
Landry suggested Boustany was exaggerating his relationship with Ryan. After several Boustany references to the Wisconsin congressman, Landry replied, "Paul Ryan is running for vice president, not for congressman in the 3rd Congressional District."
The two men diverged on the most recent vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, with Landry accusing Boustany of supporting something that "compromised our children's future."
Boustany said the debt cap had to be raised to pay for veterans programs and Medicare for senior citizens, and he said the debt hike was tied to a multi-trillion dollar spending reduction.
Landry said the benefits for veterans and seniors could have been paid with adjustments to "cash-flow" practices in the federal government. And he said Boustany was now complaining about some of the cuts that were tied to the debt borrowing limit increase.
"What we would have seen was a default on our debt," Boustany said.
Redesign of the district largely favors Boustany, as the district now includes only a few parishes currently represented by Landry. But Landry has tried to chip away at Boustany's advantage by lining up endorsements from local Republican Party leaders and tea party groups to build grassroots support.
Other candidates in the race include Republican Bryan Barrilleaux, Democrat Ron Richard and Libertarian Jim Stark. A runoff, if needed, would take place Dec. 8.