BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The candidates competing to be Louisiana's newest congressman will represent one of the nation's poorest U.S. House districts. But that doesn't mean the topic comes up on the 5th District campaign trail all that much.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat, repeatedly talks of poverty as one of the most important issues facing the district.
"Our state will continue to be at the bottom until that's addressed," Mayo said.
For many others in the list of 14 candidates, however, poverty has taken a back seat to other subjects leading up to Saturday's election, particularly debates on the policies of President Barack Obama and Gov. Bobby Jindal.
In the district stretching up the Mississippi River delta, poverty is pervasive and has been a long-term problem. About one in four district residents are below the poverty line, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
When questioned about how to dig the district out of poverty, major contenders in the race focused on job creation and skills training.
"We need to look at bringing in industry, making sure we don't over-regulate small business," said Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, a Republican and owner of his own nursery business. "I think small business is always going to be the key to the 5th District."
State Sen. Neil Riser, a Republican, talked of supporting the agriculture industry by passing a new Farm Bill and limiting federal regulations on oil and gas production. He said Congress needs to repeal the federal health care overhaul, saying its mandates on people and businesses are too costly.
"When you drive up costs on business, that hurts employment. When you drive up insurance costs on individuals, that hurts disposable income," Riser said.
State Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat, spoke of keeping college affordable, returning tax dollars to the district and capitalizing on natural resources to bring more manufacturing jobs to the area.
Meanwhile, Republican Vance McAllister, running for his first political office, suggested tying social programs like welfare to skills training and educational requirements.
"It's not a popular answer, but it's the truth. You don't give them a handout, you give them a hand up," McAllister said when asked about poverty.
Former state Rep. Weldon Russell, a Democrat, has said the Census data on poverty highlighted a need for Congress to shift from discussions of cutting government spending to talk of increasing spending on job creation.
The 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes from northeast and central Louisiana into the southeast. The seat is open because Rodney Alexander, a Republican who had been in office more than a decade, resigned from Congress before his term was up. He has taken a job in Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.
Saturday's election isn't expected to decide the district's next congressman because of the crowded field of candidates. The top two highest vote-getters advance to a Nov. 16 runoff if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote outright.
Other elected officials considered to be main contenders include: state Rep. Marcus Hunter, a Democrat, and state Rep. Jay Morris, a Republican.