Jindal race too close to call

Nov14, 2003

By John Hill, La. Gannett News Service

BATON ROUGE - The governor's race narrowed to a four-point gap, a dramatic shift as Republican Bobby Jindal dropped three points and Democrat Kathleen Blanco rose two points in Verne Kennedy's tracking poll out Thursday morning.

The poll trends led Kennedy to say the race is becoming too close to call.

The sample of 600 taken three nights through Wednesday night put it at 46 percent for Jindal, down from 49 percent the day before, and 42 percent for Blanco, up from 39 percent the day before.

Kennedy said his projections show that if the election had been held Tuesday, Jindal would have been ahead by one 1 percent, which means the race is within the poll's margin of error of 4 points.

"It's enough to be called a trend. It's still 46-42, but when you adjust the African-American vote to take the undecided African-American vote to give it the Democrat, this race is around 1 percent. That's too close to know," Kennedy said.

Jindal's black support slipped from 11 percent to 7 percent, with undecided blacks at 21 percent while 72 of blacks supported Blanco. Among whites, Jindal led with 60-31.

Among men, Jindal led 52-38, but Blanco led among women 45-41.

Jindal's big drop is occurring in the Baton Rouge and Florida parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain, Kennedy said.

"Based on tracking numbers through Tuesday, I thought that Jindal had moved far enough in front that he had a high probability of victory," Kennedy said. "However, based upon results through Wednesday, especially the 400 interviews conducted Tuesday and Wednesday night, the race now is almost even."

"My projection is an election held Wednesday would have resulted in a Jindal victory by about 1 percent, but that's too close to call," Kennedy said.

"The decided change that has occurred is in suburban voters outside of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, in which Jindal maintained a very strong lead until the last two days," Kennedy. "These voters are whites in white-collar occupations and also include a number of government employees."

"There is something happening in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parishes," Kennedy said.

Over the three nights in those parishes, Jindal's lead dropped from 61-23 on Monday, 59-28 on Tuesday and 48-40 on Wednesday. "That's a trend," Kennedy said. The race also narrowed in the New Orleans area that includes populous Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, where his lead has narrowed from six to four points.

Jindal gained support in North Louisiana, going from a 47-40 lead to a 50-38, but Blanco seems to be holding her Acadiana base.

The poll was taken through 9 p.m. Wednesday, an hour after the debate in which there was a dramatic moment in which Blanco, asked to name the "defining moment" in her life, answered that it was the death of a child. Her son, Ben, was crushed by falling steel ball in an industrial accident a few days shy of his 20th birthday in January 1997. His brother, Ray, now 31, was standing at his side when the accident occurred.

"The most defining moment in my life came," Blanco said, pausing to choke back emotion, "when I lost a child."

"Those are the moment when you have to really, really know that you have faith and faith can bring you where you have to go," she said, apologizing that "it is difficult to talk about it."

Blanco has never publicly discussed the loss of her child during the campaign.

"That's what makes me what I am today, knowing that one of the worst things that could happen to a person happened to me, and we were able to protect our family, and the rest of my children are stronger because of it,"

One of the panelists on the debate, George Sells, anchorman of WAFB, said, "In the studio, it was a very dramatic moment."

Jindal said his defining moment came "when Christ found me" when he was in high school, when he converted from the Hindu religion of his parents, who came to Louisiana from their native India. "It is certainly changed my life, have changed me as a man and the father that I've tried to be," Jindal said.

Jindal, 32, worked in the Bush administration and was State Secretary of Health and Hospitals under Foster. Born a Hindu, he converted to Catholicism, and his poll manifesto has been drafted to draw as many conservative votes as possible.

He added there were other moments, such as his marriage and the birth of his child.

"I don't have to describe the joy of bring home a daughter from the same hospital where I was born," Jindal said.

Kennedy said the sampling was too small to be scientifically accurate, but the Wednesday night interviews conducted following the debate were very strong for Blanco, a two-to-one margin.

Blanco and Jindal also differentiated themselves on several issues, including abortion. Blanco said she's opposed to abortions, with the exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. While Jindal said he is opposed to all abortion, but if a procedure to save the life of the mother is conducted and an abortion results, that would be okay. He said that he is opposed to abortion for victims of rape or incest.

There was a definite shift after the debate, Kennedy said, but the full impact of the debate will not be known until he polls an addition 400 voters Thursday night and adds them to the 200 sampled on Wednesday night. Wednesday's night's sample put it at 44 for Blanco and 41 for Jindal.

Blanco's campaign put out a press release noting that based on the 400 samples of Tuesday and Wednesday nights only, the race was tied at 44 percent.

"I feel my campaign surging as I have moved around the state in the past few days," Blanco said. "These poll numbers how my message about the difference between me and my opponent is bring more voters to me," she said.

The Jindal camp remains confident.

"The other polls we have seen out there still show us farther ahead," said Jindal spokesman Trey Williams. "We think this race is going to be close and, with our turnout efforts, we are going to be successful on Saturday."

Kennedy said that based on tracking numbers through Tuesday night, "I thought Jindal had moved far enough in front that he had a high probability of victory. However, based on based upon results through Wednesday, especially the 400 interviews conducted Tuesday and Wednesday night, the race now is almost even."

"My projection is an election held Wednesday would have results in a Jindal victory by about 1 percent, but that's too close to call," Kennedy said.

Southern University political scientist Frank Ransburg said he's not surprised about Jindal's appearing to lose black support.

"I've said all along that the black vote would go to the Democratic candidate, no matter who the Democratic candidate might be," Ransburg. "The black vote is more loyal to the Democratic Party than Catholics are to the Pope."

He said he expects in excess of 90 percent of the black vote will go to Blanco. "It has nothing to do with Mr. Jindal as a person, he just represents the Republican Party, and black voters identify with the Democratic Party."

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