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Bobby Jindal loses in Louisiana

By Our Correspondent in New Orleans
Last updated on: November 16, 2003 19:53 IST
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Kathleen Babineaux Blanco won the election for Governor of Louisiana, defeating her Republican rival Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal by a margin of 54,567 votes.

When the final tally was in from all 4143 parishes, Blanco had 730, 747 votes (52 per cent) against Bobby Jindal's 676,180 votes (48 per cent). The final voter turnout was 50.7 per cent up marginally from the 49.5 per cent recorded in the October 4 primaries.

Blanco led from the start; she was never higher than 54 per cent, nor lower than 51. In fact, the outcome was apparent at the three quarter mark itself; so much so that with just over 1000 parishes remained to be heard from at that stage, Blanco appeared on local TV stations, smiling broadly and basking in the glow of potential victory, to thank voters of the state for supporting her.

The win creates history -- Blanco is the first woman ever to be elected to Louisiana's highest office; she is in fact the first woman to be elected Governor in the Deep South.

In the Jindal camp, the mood remained upbeat in the ballroom of the Astro Crowne Plaza Hotel, on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where Bobby Jindal, his wife, the couple's parents, friends and supporters are camped, till the very end. Each time Jindal narrowed the gap, cheers broke out; when Blanco pulled away again, the mood swung to apprehension.

Over 1000 people thronged the ballroom where Jindal is camped; over one fourth of them Indian-Americans.

That sizeable contingent from Jindal's community was not an unmixed blessing; through the last days of the campaigning, Jindal's campaign committee has been somewhat worried about the perception that his camp is taking an Indian coloration.

While Jindal himself has no qualms about his Indian-American heritage (his family emigrated in the 1970s, Jindal himself was born six months after his parents reached Baton Rouge), his campaign feared that local TV stations might tend to focus on that, and inadvertently upset the conservative white voters who form the Republican core.

Interestingly, not a single person in the ballroom was an African-American. When Bobby Jindal won the October 4 primaries and set himself up for the run-off against Blanco, the key question was whether he would be able to rope in support from the black community.

Jindal fought that battle brilliantly, getting endorsements from two left-leaning newspapers serving the black community. In an even bigger coup, he managed to get the official endorsement of the powerful BOLD (Black Organization for Leadership Development).

BOLD leaders told the local media how Jindal had laid seige to them; he insisted the BOLD leadership sit with him and voice their concerns. Initially reluctant to even talk to a Republican candidate, the BOLD hierarchy finally agreed; they met Jindal over an intense two-hour discussion at the end of which, BOLD issued its official endorsement.

However, buzz in Louisiana was that despite the body taking a pro-Jindal stance, powerful leaders of the body were against him, and were working for the Blanco campaign.

Jindal scored another coup of sorts when New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a lifetime Democrat, endorsed Jindal; the endorsement prompted Nagin's advisory commission on gay rights to resign in protest. It also brought immediate, and fervent, condemnation from Louisiana's two Democratic Senators -- and that likely proved an important factor.

In the 2002 Senate elections, the Republicans had pulled out all stops in a bid to get Suzanne Haik Terrell elected over the Democratic candidate Mary Landrieu.

The parade of GOP campaigners was led by President George W Bush; others who stumped for Terrell included Vice President Dick Cheney, former President George W Bush, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Sen.-elect Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

But Landrieu, attempting to maintain her centrist image, did not bring prominent national Democrats in to campaign for her. She received her biggest help from Louisiana's other Democratic senator, John Breax, who is as popular as Bush among state voters.

This time round, both Briex and Landrieu, who belongs to one of Lousiana's oldest and most powerful political families (her brother is the incoming Lt Governor, replacing Blanco; her father Moon Landrieu was former Mayor of New Orleans), threw their weight solidly behind Blanco.

At another level, Jindal's defeat halts a Republican roll that saw the party win three governor seats in the last 40 days.

The Republican wave began with the recall last month of Democratic Governor Gray Davis in California and the election of the GOP's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Earlier this month, Ernie Fletcher broke a 32-year-old Democratic stranglehold on the Kentucky governor's seat and Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, defeated Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgrove in Mississippi.

A Jindal win would have marked the first time since the Reconstruction that the GOP simultaneously held the governor's seat in all Deep South states; it already has Alabama (Bob Riley -- elected 2002, till 2007); Georgia (Sonny Perdue, elected 2002, term expires 2007), South Carolina (Mark Sanford, likewise) and Mississippi.

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Our Correspondent in New Orleans