Associated Press Writer
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 run again because of term limits.
With 99 percent of precincts counted, Blanco had 52 percent, or 725,760
votes, to Jindal's 48 percent, or 672,294.
Shortly before 10 p.m, The Associated Press declared Robert Wooley
winner of the Insurance Commissioner race. Wooley's opponent Dan Kyle
has conceded to Wooley. The new governor replaces Gov. Mike Foster on
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.
Jindal had been slightly favored, partly due to strong backing from
Foster. But Blanco accused him of harming the poor by enacting budget
cuts when he served as Foster's health secretary.
A 20-year veteran of public office, Blanco has had a low-key career
first as a legislator, then as a Public Service Commissioner, and finally
as lieutenant governor, where she oversaw the state's tourism efforts.
Her campaign sought to portray Blanco as a warm, family-oriented public
servant, while depicting Jindal as a heartless numbers cruncher.
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
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
"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.