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Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco wins Louisiana governor's race

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco became the first woman ever elected governor of Louisiana on Saturday, defeating a conservative Indian-American and scoring a rare gain for Democrats in an election season that has seen a string of Republican victories.

Blanco's victory puts the Louisiana governorship back in the Democratic column for the first time since GOP Gov. Mike Foster won the first of his two terms eight years ago. He could not run again because of term limits.

With 99 percent of precincts counted, Blanco had 52 percent, or 725,760 votes, to Bobby Jindal's 48 percent, or 672,294.

"Although our campaign did not come out on top tonight, Louisiana and America did," Jindal said in his concession speech. "I stand before you tonight, proud. Proud to be a Louisianian, proud to be an American."

Blanco, 60, carried her native Cajun area and swamped Jindal in New Orleans, where Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin had endorsed Jindal. She held her own in Jindal's home city of Baton Rouge and in northern Louisiana. Jindal ran strong in the GOP-dominated suburbs of New Orleans.

Jindal, 32-year-old former Rhodes Scholar, would have been the first non-white elected governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction. Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, is a former assistant health secretary under President Bush.

The Democratic victory snapped a winning streak for the GOP, which has captured the governorships of California, Kentucky and Mississippi within the last two months.

Blanco's victory echoed the election a year ago when Louisiana dented another Republican upswing with Democrat Mary Landrieu winning re-election to the U.S. Senate after the GOP had won control of that chamber.

Republicans had hoped Jindal would give them a sweep of governornorships in every Deep South state -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina -- for the first time since Reconstruction.

While both candidates carved out blocs of fervent supporters, many voters in this tradition-bound state appeared befuddled by the ballot choice -- either because of resistance to supporting a woman or a non-white, or because the two candidates were so close ideologically.

"It's time a woman steps in, and I think she's the right one for the job," said Leuna Davis, who voted for Blanco. "She's been in the system longer, and she's more established."

Karey Victoriano, 24, said she voted for Jindal partly because she liked his focus on the state's economy.

"He's got a young family, and he's worried about his children not having a future here," said Victoriano, a new mother from the New Orleans suburb of Marrero. "I get the feeling he would work hard to change that."

Both candidates focused their campaigns on promises to bring jobs to Louisiana, which has been struggling near the bottom in most national economic indicators and the only Southern state to experience a net outmigration of population in the 1990s.

With their approaches differing little -- lower taxes on business, no new taxes on citizens -- the race came down to style, personality and resume.

Jindal sought to neutralize possible opposition based on his ethnicity. He campaigned far to the right, running radio ads extolling the Ten Commandments, deriding gun control, and promoting his strong Catholic faith.

"It's not about race, it's about which candidate has the qualifications and experience to lead our state forward," Jindal said last week.

Less than a week before the election, 12 percent of the electorate had not made up their minds according to the latest poll.

"I'm really undecided," said Tommy Schwebel, a fireman in Amite, 80 miles north of New Orleans. "The ones I talk to out in the street, they don't want to vote for either one of them."

This is the same state where, just over a decade ago, a majority of white men voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Stacy Tanguis, 32, said Saturday she was proud of Louisiana for selecting two historic candidates in the primary.

"It says we've come a long way, and we're ready for a change," she said.

------With their approaches differing little -- lower taxes on business, no new taxes on citizens -- the race came down to style, personality and resume.

Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar born and raised in Baton Rouge, sought to neutralize possible opposition based on his ethnicity. He campaigned far to the right, running radio ads extolling the Ten Commandments, deriding gun control, and promoting his strong Catholic faith.

"It's not about race, it's about which candidate has the qualifications and experience to lead our state forward," Jindal said last week.

Less than a week before the election, 12 percent of the electorate had not made up their minds according to the latest poll.

"I'm really undecided," said Tommy Schwebel, a fireman in Amite, 80 miles north of New Orleans. "The ones I talk to out in the street, they don't want to vote for either one of them."

This is the same state where, just over a decade ago, a majority of white men voted for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Stacy Tanguis, 32, said Saturday she was proud of Louisiana for selecting two historic candidates in the primary.

"It says we've come a long way, and we're ready for a change," she said.


On the Net:

http://www.bobbyjindal.com

http://www.kathleenblanco.com


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