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Candidates make final pitches in Louisiana's US Senate race

Voting machines, signs and equipment are organized for delivery at the Louisiana Voting Machine Warehouse in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. (Max Becherer/The Advocate via AP)

By MELINDA DESLATTE and KEVIN McGILL Associated Press

KENNER, La. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy spent his last day of campaigning ahead of Election Tuesday in hurricane-damaged southeast Louisiana, trying after months of Gulf Coast storms and a global pandemic to draw focus to a low-key Senate race overshadowed by the presidential contest.

Cassidy’s best-funded Democratic competitor, Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, sought support in Acadiana on Monday while the GOP incumbent held a series of meet-and-greets with voters.

Though he faced 14 opponents on the ballot, Cassidy hoped to receive more than 50% of the vote in Tuesday’s Senate primary to win a second term without a Dec. 5 runoff.

Cassidy did not mention Perkins to an audience of about 50 at a low-key event in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner. Instead, he touted the Republican’s small government philosophy, talked of his work to lower prescription drug prices and attacked Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s statement that the nation should transition away from the oil industry in favor of renewable energy sources.

Questioned after the event, he did point to Shreveport media reports of dissatisfaction among some of the city’s voters with Perkins over various issues, including Perkins’ decision to seek a higher office after only two years as mayor.

“You’ll read about people bitterly disappointed because someone who supposedly committed to a new Shreveport is jumping ship after two years,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy also defended his refusal to participate in a debate during the campaign, but said he would be willing to debate if the race goes to a runoff.

The first-term senator had higher name recognition than his challengers, millions more in campaign donations to run a campaign and the backing of President Donald Trump, who is popular in the deep red state.

Perkins, a West Point- and Harvard-educated Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, spent his time Monday in New Iberia, Opelousas and Lafayette. He visited lunch restaurants and continued his drumbeat of criticizing Cassidy’s performance in Washington.

“There is way too much at stake not to put in the work. Health care, our pandemic response, COVID relief and voting rights are all on the ballot,” Perkins said in a Twitter video posted from his stop in New Iberia. “We can’t afford to sit this one out. So, make a plan to vote. Call three people and make sure they have a plan. Let’s finish the mission.”

His campaign released a recorded endorsement message from former President Barack Obama. Perkins also has the support of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Among other Democratic challengers to Cassidy were Antoine Pierce, a Baton Rouge community organizer who announced his campaign months before Perkins; and Derrick Edwards, a lawyer from Harvey who previously has run unsuccessfully for state treasurer and U.S. Senate.

Only a handful of Cassidy’s opponents did much fundraising for the race, and Cassidy far outstripped their available dollars. The GOP senator raised $10.9 mill for the election cycle. Perkins consolidated most of the Democratic financial support in the race, but remained far behind Cassidy in donations, bringing in nearly $1.8 million.

Nearly a third of Louisiana’s 3 million registered voters had already cast their ballots in Louisiana’s 10-day early voting period, which shattered previous turnout records, or through absentee-by-mail voting, which was expanded by a federal judge because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.

Beyond the presidential and U.S. Senate races, Louisiana voters were choosing six U.S. House members. Five incumbents are seeking reelection, while the 5th District seat representing northeast and central Louisiana is open because Republican Ralph Abraham isn’t running for another term.

Also on the ballot statewide are seven constitutional amendments and a parish-by-parish decision on whether to legalize sports betting. Top of the amendment list is a provision that would declare that Louisiana’s state constitution doesn’t offer protection for abortion rights.

Thousands of voters in southwest Louisiana will be casting ballots in different locations Tuesday because Hurricane Laura damaged their traditional polling sites. In the New Orleans area and other southeastern parishes, more than a dozen voting locations will be running on generator power because outages caused by Hurricane Zeta haven’t been repaired.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, La.