Jindal, Landrieu want debate in La.

Published 11:53 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Gov. Bobby Jindal have sent a letter to the top three presidential candidates asking them to schedule a presidential debate in New Orleans, Landrieu said Wednesday.

Last November, the bipartisan commission coordinating presidential debates rejected New Orleans as a site, saying it wasn’t sufficiently recovered from Hurricane Katrina to host such an event.

Landrieu said Wednesday that the commission’s position is silly.

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‘‘Not only are we ready to handle a presidential debate, we could handle both conventions at the same time,’’ said Landrieu, pointing to a string of events the city has hosted, including the college football national championship game, the NBA All-Star game and Mardi Gras.

The letter to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain states there is no better place in the nation to discuss all of the issues in the campaign because Louisiana is dealing with all of them.

‘‘We believe that it is incumbent upon national figures and those who seek the office of the presidency in particular to shine the national spotlight on the people and places in our country which deserve to be highlighted,’’ the letter read. ‘‘The people of the Gulf Coast continue to recover and rebuild from the devastating storms of 2005 and those effects are an incredible window into the many challenges facing not just New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast but the entire country.’’

The letter went on to point out that the challenges the recovery provides mirror those of the nation — the need for a government accountable to the people, building better schools, access to affordable, high quality health care and an economic policy that is responsive to businesses and industries looking to invest, and the need for a highly trained work force.

‘‘There is no better place than the city of New Orleans to explore new ideas for solving some of our nation’s toughest challenges,’’ the letter said. ‘‘Recovering from the storms has inspired us to not just rebuild, but work to build back stronger than ever before.’’

Landrieu, noting that he is the state’s highest ranking Democratic official and that Jindal is the highest ranking Republican, said the debate could be held once each party has finally determined its nominee — even before this summer’s conventions.

McCain is now considered the likely Republican nominee. Clinton and Obama are still battling for the Democratic nod.

A spokesman for the Clinton campaign said that she previously signed a letter to the commission expressing preference for a New Orleans debate, so obviously believes one should be held in the city.

The Commission on Presidential Debates picked from 16 cities, Paul Kirk, a Democrat and the co-chair of the commission, said in November. Kirk said at the time that the commission selected what they felt were the strongest applications and New Orleans ‘‘did not measure up.’’

Selected were The University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

The vice presidential debate will be held Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

The co-chairmen of the commission did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

‘‘We would still hope to work with the commission, but if not, we would be happy to stage a separate debate,’’ Landrieu said. ‘‘There is plenty of time, plenty of money and plenty of ability here to do so.’’