Thursday, October 2, 2003

BATON ROUGE, La. — The controversies that usually swirl in Louisiana’s gubernatorial races are absent this year, leaving political analysts to call it “Dullsville” and “bland and boring.”

For a state that traditionally provides the nation with political entertainment, tomorrow’s open primary will lack the heated battles that have helped defined Southern politics. There are 17 candidates vying for the governorship, but recent polls suggest only six have a reasonable shot of winning one of the two spots on the Nov. 15 ballot.

Those six include four Democrats — Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, former U.S. Rep. Buddy Leach and former state Senate President Randy Ewing — and two Republicans, former state House Speaker Hunt Downer and Bobby Jindal, an administrative wunderkind who served two years as President Bush’s assistant secretary of health and human services, but who has never run for elective office.

Under Louisiana’s open-primary system, all the candidates appear on the ballot, and voters can select from any of them, regardless of their party affiliation.

However, campaign watchers say this year’s election has been unusually dull compared with the days of Gov. Edwin Edwards, now serving a federal prison term for extortion and racketeering.

“My whole feeling is, wake me when it’s over,” said Gordon Harvey, a Monroe-based political historian. “This is the strangest gubernatorial election in a while. It’s Dullsville.”

New Orleans pollster Ed Renwick called the race “bland and boring” because candidates aren’t taking controversial positions, as they have done in the past.

“Everyone is playing it close. Another reason is that it’s pretty tough for a man to attack a woman. I think we’ll see more negativity in the runoff,” Mr. Renwick said.

Polls taken since the August filing deadline consistently show Mrs. Blanco, 60, and Mr. Jindal, 32, as the favorites. Either one would make history if elected: Mrs. Blanco as the first woman, Mr. Jindal because of his youth and his East Indian ancestry.

Mr. Renwick said Mr. Ewing, Mr. Ieyoub or Mr. Leach still are close enough to overtake one of the front-runners.

“Any one of them could get into the runoff with a shift of four or five points from one of the other candidates,” Mr. Renwick said.

He said his Sept. 20 poll showed Mrs. Blanco with 21 percent, Mr. Jindal with 18 percent, Mr. Ewing with 11 percent, Mr. Ieyoub with 10 percent, Mr. Leach with 9 percent, and Mr. Downer with 4 percent, with 18 percent undecided.

Another pollster, Bernie Pinsonat of Baton Rouge-based Southern Media and Opinion Research, said his only survey, taken two weeks into the campaign, showed Mrs. Blanco and Mr. Jindal neck-and-neck, but adds that Mr. Jindal will gain momentum going into tomorrow’s race.

“[Mr. Jindal] has got a clean shot for the finish line,” Mr. Pinsonat said. “She’s got people trying to tackle her, and he doesn’t.”

Mr. Ieyoub, Mr. Ewing and Mr. Leach are all making last-minute attacks on Mrs. Blanco to try to cut her lead among black voters, both pollsters said.

Even though the attacks are traditional on the bayou, Mr. Pinsonat said it’s nothing like a traditional Louisiana race.

“There’s no stealing, there are no cronyism scandals, there are no rascals,” said Mr. Pinsonat in a reference to the imprisoned governor.

He added that even in the 1995 race to succeed the four-term Mr. Edwards, “everyone was running against what Edwin had done.”

“The candidates have had to adapt to not running against his administration. That’s why you have Jindal and Blanco [leading]. She doesn’t have any scandals and she has the advantage of being a female. He has the appeal of an outsider, and he has a reputation of being one of the brightest people around. She’s doing well on the Democratic side, he’s doing well among Republicans.”

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