By WILL SENTELL
In their final debate, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy lobbed charges against each other Wednesday night on campaign tactics, Social Security and abortion.
Landrieu, who is seeking her third term, again portrayed Kennedy as a chronic flip-flopper who cannot decide on his political party or positions.
"He is not who he claims to be," Landrieu said of Kennedy, who changed from Democrat to Republican last year.
Kennedy repeatedly blasted Landrieu's stance on the war in Iraq, and her continued criticism of last year's troop surge there.
"The surge is working," he said.
"I do not know why Sen. Landrieu and Sen. Obama cannot admit it.
"They want to surrender in Iraq," Kennedy added.
The contenders faced off for the fourth time in 17 days in a New Orleans television studio.
The debate was carried by several CBS stations statewide, including WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge and KLFY-TV in Lafayette.
Landrieu, 52, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. Kennedy, 56, has been state treasurer since 2000.
The election is Nov. 4.
Both contenders dodged responsibility for the hard-edged nature of some of their campaign charges and countercharges.
Kennedy said his camp began a positive campaign in August and that Landrieu immediately "went up with ads attacking me.
"Now it is necessary in this business when you are trying to articulate your policies ... to respond to accusations that aren't true," he said.
Landrieu said she has tried to wage a positive campaign, citing magazine rankings that list her as a political centrist, not the liberal that Kennedy has called her.
But the Democrat said it was also important to counter Kennedy's claims that he is a conservative, and to point out that he ran for the U.S. Senate four years ago as a liberal Democrat himself.
On Social Security, Kennedy denied Landrieu's charge that he favors privatizing dollars that aid retirees.
The Republican said he favors giving young people just entering the system the option of investing some of their contributions in the stock market or fixed investments.
Landrieu said she opposes any kind of privatization. She also denied Kennedy's charge, which he said came from a 1999 newspaper story, that she favored investing some Social Security dollars in the stock market.
Landrieu's camp quickly sent out e-mails that said Kennedy took her 1999 stance out of context and that it involved possible investments of the Social Security surplus.
Kennedy, who said he opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother, conceded that he has had a change of heart on the issue over the years.
"I became a father," he said. "It has changed my life."
Landrieu, who favors abortion rights with some restrictions, said she voted to outlaw a late-term procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortions.
In an unusually frank moment, Kennedy spelled out a family tragedy when asked to describe his biggest personal setback.
"Becky and I lost a baby and it was very difficult," he said, a reference to his wife.
Kennedy said the setback taught him "how precious life is," whether it is 82 years or 82 seconds.
"It is life," he said.
Landrieu said she once planned to pursue a career in the Christian ministry but had to drop those plans.
"It was hard," she said.