Health care divides candidates in 5th District

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Associated Press

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 2:03 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 15 at 2:03 AM

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Health care has become the sharp dividing line between the two Republicans vying in Saturday's election to be Louisiana's newest congressman.

Vance McAllister and Neil Riser are conservatives with few issues on which they differ in the competition for the vacant 5th District congressional seat. But on their response to President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul, they are far apart.

Both oppose the law, but Riser is pushing for repeal and nothing else.

"I think it's going to hurt families and businesses both," he said.

McAllister says that position is pointless because with Democrats leading the Senate and the White House, repeal has no chance of happening.

"It's here, it's a nightmare and we have to deal with it," he said.

Instead, McAllister says Congress should try to improve the law by tweaking it. McAllister also says Louisiana should expand its Medicaid program as allowed under the law to provide insurance coverage to the working poor.

Riser has used the issue to run several attack ads against McAllister in the runoff election, including one released this week that says a vote for McAllister is a vote supporting "Obamacare."

McAllister responds that Riser has no realistic plan for getting the law repealed.

"I'm against the Affordable Health Care Act. I will vote to repeal it if there's a vote right now today ... but the truth of the matter is you stand on a platform and pander for votes on something that can't be repealed," he told Riser in a recent debate.

Riser said the House should continue approving repeal bills, pushing the Senate to consider them and highlighting problems with the law.

"We will keep speaking and sending it to the Senate over and over," he said.

The issue is the most distinct disagreement between the two Republicans seeking to fill the seat once held by Rodney Alexander, a Republican who left Congress in the middle of his sixth term to take a job in Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

On paper, there's very little that appears to separate Riser and McAllister, who topped a 14-candidate field in an open primary last month to get into the runoff to represent northeast and central Louisiana in Congress. The sprawling 5th District covers all or part of 24 parishes.

Both men oppose abortion, favor strong gun rights and criticize the levels of federal spending and debt.

"We're both true conservatives both fiscally and socially," McAllister said.

Tea party groups have sided with Riser, a state senator since 2008, because of the health care law.

"I think McAllister and Riser are a microcosm of a larger argument about 'What does it mean to be a good Republican?'" said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

"McAllister is taking the pragmatic route, saying you can work with Democrats without compromising your conservative values. Riser seems to imply that you must stick to all things conservative without wavering," Stockley said.

Riser, a funeral home owner, is best known for his constitutional amendment making it tougher to enact gun restrictions in Louisiana. McAllister, a self-made businessman making his first bid for public office, gained attention with backing from members of the highly popular "Duck Dynasty" television series family.

McAllister's spent at least $800,000 of his own cash on the race so far, providing most of his campaign's financing, according to the Federal Election Commission. By comparison, Riser's raised a similar amount and put no personal wealth into the campaign.

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