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Rediff.com  » News » Bobby Jindal's dream run may be shattered

Bobby Jindal's dream run may be shattered

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
April 11, 2007 01:48 IST
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United States Congressman Bobby Jindal's quest to occupy the Louisiana's governor's mansion in Baton Rouge a second time around seemed like a cinch only a few weeks ago,  as he led Democratic incumbent Governor Kathleen Blanco by more than two to one in all of the preliminary polls.

But it now seems like a case of so near but yet so far.

Democratic Party insiders confirmed to India Abroad that senior Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association officials had virtually cajoled Blanco to announce last month that she would not seek re-election -- just a week after she had asserted that she did -- to clear the way for the highly respected former US Senator John Breaux, 63, who represented Louisiana from 1987 to 2005 and did not seek a fourth term in 2004.

'I will focus my time and my energy for the next nine months on the people's work, not on politics,'  Blanco -- whose political standing took a nosedive with a frustrated public holding her partly to blame for the glacial pace of recovery in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- announced last month.

Breaux has still not publicly announced his intent to seek the governorship, but Democratic Party sources said that he is likely to do so in the next few weeks after sorting out his residency eligibility in Louisiana to legitimize such a run.

He has also been quoted by Gannet News Service as saying he has inherited partial ownership of the Crowley home in Louisiana occupied by his father, and he is also listed as the owner of two other parcels of property in Crowley, which is in the Acadia Parish.

Democratic Party sources said Breaux would announce his intent to contest as soon as the residency requirements are sorted out.

The party coffers would be open to fund his campaign while his supporters would quickly mobilise to raise funds for him to match the millions of dollars that Jindal already has in his campaign coffers. This includes more than $1.2 million left over from his previous Congressional campaign last year, where he was re-elected to the state's 1st District with a record 88 percent of the vote.

Longtime political observers told India Abroad that if Breaux takes on Jindal, the fact that he is a conservative Democrat with strong roots in Louisiana going back several generations, would make him highly attractive to both Democrats and Republicans in the state, "and you bet he will bury Jindal."

The irony is if Breaux jumps into the fray, he would be challenging a protégé of his since he was Jindal's mentor. When he was a Senator and chairman of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, it was he who brought Jindal to Washington in 1998 as the Commission's Executive Director.

At the time Jindal was serving as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals in the administration of Republican Governor Mike Foster.

In interviews with India Abroad during his term on this Commission and later, Jindal would lavish praise on Breaux for not only being his mentor but also supporting him strongly in all his endeavors. Breaux was among those who recommended to his colleagues in the Senate at the time to confirm Jindal as the assistant secretary of health and human services in the first Bush administration.

Yet another irony, whether it is Breaux or any other Democratic candidate who takes on Jindal, working aggressively to deny Jindal the governorship  would be two Indian Americans -- Raghu Devaguptapu and Mona Mohib, political director and director of policy and communications respectively at the Democratic Governors Association. The Association works to elect and re-elect Democratic candidates and incumbents and maintain the Democratic majority among the country's governors.

Graham Wisner, senior counsel at Patton Boggs and a colleague of Breaux, who is the point man of the firm's lobbying efforts on behalf of its client the US-India Business Council to consummate the US-India civilian nuclear deal in Congress, told India Abroad, "We have enormous respect for him and he's an enormous asset to our firm and we really love him."

"So we would be very sorry to lose him, but this is his decision, not ours, and whatever it is, we will respect it," he said.

Wisner, an astute political observer, said Breaux was such "a special man in his own way," that "in a world full of one-eyed jacks, he is king. There are very few people who walk between the two parties in a bipartisan way and who have credibility on both sides of the aisle."  

Breaux was a conservative Democrat, since "anybody who is from the South, who's a Democrat, has various sort of conservative sides or he would never get elected. But he also comes from a long liberal tradition and he's very progressive on so many good issues," said Wisner.

"He has the reputation of being a kind of go to guy for both parties and he can walk in this really nasty atmosphere we're in and he can walk between the two."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently appointed Breaux on a commission to reform the State Department. Earlier, President George W Bush appointed him to a White House committee to reform the tax code.

During his Senate tenure, Breaux was highly respected by his Republican colleagues. He was the founder of the Centrist Coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans and served as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.

At the time of his retirement, he was the chief deputy whip and a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Prior to that, he was chairman of the Subcommittee of Social Security and Family Policy, and also held positions on the Health Care and Taxation and Internal Revenue Service Oversight Subcommittees.

If he decides to run for governor, it is unlikely Jindal can beat "one of the oldest names in Louisiana politics," said Wisner.

"It's just too bad because if he was running against anybody else, his reputation is so good -- everybody knows he's a straight-shooter -- that he would easily win. But the Breaux family is so much a part of Louisiana and he's a powerful name and we all know in the game of politics, name recognition is hugely important," he said.

Wisner, brother of former US ambassador to India Frank Wisner, said Breaux had been immensely helpful on the US-India nuclear deal and had made "phone calls at key moments," to his former Democratic Senate colleagues to support the enabling legislation to facilitate the agreement.

"He was very, very helpful and we are very appreciative that he was willing to step into the fray as he did," he said.  Particularly since the Democrats, to whom nonproliferation is an article of faith, needed heavy-duty convincing to support the legislation.

Responding to rumors of Breaux entering the race, Jindal, in an e-mail to his supporters and contributors, took what could be construed as a hefty dig at his erstwhile mentor.

'There is something to be said for being open and honest about your intentions. Straight talk is in very short supply in the political world,' he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC