BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, traded jabs over leadership and effectiveness as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Landrieu, a Democrat deemed among the nation's most vulnerable incumbents, talked Wednesday of her 18 years of seniority and her leadership of the Senate energy committee, saying Louisiana voters shouldn't relinquish that clout.
"It's Louisiana's clout. Let's not give it up. It took us a long time to get to this point," the three-term senator from New Orleans said, repeating the central theme of her campaign.
Cassidy, a Baton Rouge doctor, called his effort crucial to returning the U.S. Senate to GOP control, which he said more closely represents Louisiana's views.
He repeatedly linked Landrieu to President Barack Obama, who is highly unpopular in Louisiana. Cassidy also took a shot at Landrieu's seniority, saying that hasn't helped advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which Landrieu and Cassidy both support.
"You can speak of clout, but frankly, you should ask: Why haven't you been effective?" Cassidy said after registering for the election at the Secretary of State's Office.
While Landrieu signed up, the Republican Party of Louisiana showed up with "Air Mary" signs, a dig at the scrutiny Landrieu has faced for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
Landrieu ordered a complete review of all flight payments after Cassidy and GOP leaders questioned whether nearly $9,000 in reimbursements reveal a pattern of improperly using taxpayer dollars to pay for campaign events.
"The whole airplane issue is just a symptom, if you will, of a Washington, D.C., that lives high on the hog while taxpayers struggle," Cassidy said.
The incumbent senator called the payments a "bookkeeping mistake." She said Cassidy was bringing up the flights to redirect attention from his own limited achievements in office.
"Congressman Cassidy has done everything he can to not talk about the real issues of this campaign, because his record is very sparse and very modest, so he really can't talk about a record of leadership," Landrieu said.
Both candidates took credit for a flood insurance fix that reversed skyrocketing rate hikes that were slated to hit homeowners and businesses.
The three-day qualifying period runs through Friday. Contenders vying for any elected office have to pay fees and sign paperwork.
Three of Louisiana's incumbent congressmen also signed up for their re-election bids:
— Democrat Cedric Richmond, of the New Orleans-based 2nd District.
— Republican Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, for the southwest Louisiana-based 3rd District.
— Republican John Fleming, of Minden, for the northeast Louisiana-based 4th District.
Since Cassidy is running for Senate, his Baton Rouge-based 6th District seat is up for grabs, and eight candidates qualified Wednesday. Most well-known is former Gov. Edwin Edwards, an 87-year-old Democrat and convicted federal felon, who is the front-runner in the crowded field.
"I was first in Congress in 1965, many, many years ago, but I'm anxious to go back and I hope in some small way I can make a contribution. I do console myself by telling myself and my friends I can't make it any worse than it is. But I'll try to make it better," said Edwards, who was accompanied by his wife Trina, his prison pen pal and 50 years younger than her husband.