- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

BATON ROUGE, La. — Stung by the loss of two Southern governorships last week, Democrats hope to gain one back in Louisiana tomorrow — but their odds appear even at best.

Voters will be choosing between Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, 60, and Republican Bobby Jindal, 32, a former assistant secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration, in tomorrow’s runoff.

Mr. Jindal, a Rhodes scholar with a reputation as an administrative genius who never has run for elective office, led a field of 17 candidates with 33 percent of the vote in the Oct. 4 open primary. Mrs. Blanco, a veteran of state politics, was second with 18 percent.

A victory by either would be historic. Mrs. Blanco would serve as Louisiana’s first female governor and Mr. Jindal as the youngest Louisiana governor since Reconstruction and the nation’s first governor of eastern Indian descent.

Either would be the first Catholic governor since 1888; Mr. Jindal converted from Hinduism at 15. Although both are pro-life, Mrs. Blanco has said she would support abortion in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother. Mr. Jindal is opposed to abortion in all cases.

Polls have fluctuated wildly since the primary, and recent polls have been contradictory, some showing them even, others showing Mr. Jindal with leads ranging from four to 10 percentage points.

In a state that traditionally has provided the nation with some colorful politics in the months before the presidential primaries, this runoff has been unusual also because both candidates are politically conservative and pro-life.

“Twelve years ago, we had Edwin Edwards against David Duke, and today they’re both in federal prisons,” noted Ed Renwick, a New Orleans pollster. “Today, we have two honest, decent human beings, and people will be voting for somebody instead of against somebody. It’s pretty unusual in Louisiana to have a Rhodes scholar of eastern Indian descent running against a Cajun woman. We haven’t had a Catholic since 1888, and now we’ve got two.”

“This is not a classic liberal-versus-conservative race,” said Gordon Harvey, a political historian in Monroe, La. “Jindal is trying to make this new system versus old system, outsider versus insider.”

Mrs. Blanco has contended that Mr. Jindal’s resume is overblown and that when he was secretary of the state’s department of health and hospitals, he imposed disastrous budget cuts that hurt children and the elderly.

She also has attempted to portray him as a puppet of Republican Gov. Mike Foster, his political mentor. Mr. Foster appointed him head of the hospital system at 26 and president of the University of Louisiana System at 28, despite not having a doctoral degree.

Mr. Jindal has attempted to link Mrs. Blanco to Mr. Edwards, now serving a federal prison term for racketeering and extortion, citing support by former Edwards cronies.

In their last debate in New Orleans Wednesday, they were reduced to arguing over trivial matters such as whether the state should have a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists. The two-term Mr. Foster, an avid motorcyclist, had repealed the law.

And because of the candidates’ conservatism, liberals and blacks have found themselves in a political quandary.

Mr. Jindal has made unprecedented inroads in the black community, which accounts for 27 percent of the state’s 2.8 million registered voters. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a black Democrat, endorsed him, as have several black groups.

U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson, a black Democrat from New Orleans, is supporting Mrs. Blanco, as is U.S. Sen. John B. Breaux, who has strong black support.

Other prominent black leaders have declined to endorse either candidate. One such leader is state Sen. Don Cravins, whose district includes part of Mrs. Blanco’s home parish of Lafayette.

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