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Sen. Bill Cassidy qualifies for re-election; facing 14 challengers

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy exited the ongoing coronavirus aid negotiations in Washington on Friday to register for his reelection bid, drawing 14 opponents in the race as the candidate qualifying period reached its final day.

As he declared his excitement for returning to the campaign circuit, Cassidy acknowledged the difficulties of reaching out to people during the pandemic, with rallies, meet-and-greet sessions and visits to local restaurants upended by fear of the virus’s spread.

“That’s going to be a work in progress. I’m not quite sure how to do that,” he said, adding that he’s been doing Zoom calls and telephone town halls to speak with voters.

Cassidy, a doctor from Baton Rouge, signed up for the Nov. 3 election as Republicans in the Senate are haggling over what to include in their proposal for the next COVID-19 relief package. Cassidy offered few specifics on what he thought the legislation should contain. He backed additional federal unemployment aid, though questioned keeping the amount at the expiring $600 per week. He talked of the need for help for struggling restaurants and hotels and of finding ways to safely educate children.

“This is a public health crisis which has led to an economic and an educational crisis, and you can’t separate the three,” Cassidy said.

Though he faces 11 challengers, Cassidy is favored to win his re-election bid in a deep red state where he has the backing of President Donald Trump and a $6 million campaign account. But Democrats are excited about the entrance into the race of Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, who announced his campaign this week.

The young mayor has a strong pedigree, with a West Point education, Harvard law degree and military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was encouraged to run by Democratic donors looking for a strong challenger to the GOP incumbent. Democrat Antoine Pierce, of Baton Rouge, has been running for the Senate seat for more than a year, but he’s received little donor support so far.

Both Perkins and Pierce have panned Cassidy’s performance in Congress. Pierce criticized Cassidy’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and said Cassidy “grovels at the feet of Donald Trump.” Perkins said he decided to enter the race after seeing too little action from Cassidy and the Republican-led Senate to help families struggling with the coronavirus outbreak.

Cassidy laughed at claims he was missing in action for the pandemic, suggesting the idea was absurd and defending his work to help constituents and businesses. He dismissed criticism that Senate Republicans had dragged their feet in passing a new round of coronavirus aid, saying the hefty relief bill passed by Democrats in the U.S. House and stalled by the Senate “wasn’t serious.”

“If you want to be serious and actually get to a solution that can be signed into law, it’s hard,” Cassidy said.

Though the senator said he supports wearing a mask to lessen the spread of the coronavirus, Cassidy dodged questions about whether he backs the statewide face-covering mandate enacted by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, an issue that has divided Republicans in Louisiana.

In addition to Cassidy, five of Louisiana’s incumbent congressmen registered to run for re-election this fall: Republican Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson and Garret Graves and Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond. All will face challengers on the November ballot.

The only open congressional seat without an incumbent seeking re-election is in the 5th District, where Republican Ralph Abraham decided not to run for a fourth term representing northeast and central Louisiana after losing the governor’s race last year. Seven candidates are vying for the position. The largely rural district contains all or part of 24 parishes and the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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