Democrat wins La. governor’s race

NEW ORLEANS – 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 in eight years.

With 95 percent of precincts counted, Blanco had 52 percent, or 691,130 votes, to Jindal’s 48 percent, or 648,915.

Jindal, a 32-year-old former Rhodes Scholar whose parents immigrated to Louisiana from India, had been slightly favored, partly due to strong backing from incumbent Gov. Mike Foster. But Blanco, a 60-year-old Cajun, accused him of harming the poor by enacting budget cuts when he served as Foster’s health secretary. He later became an assistant health secretary for President Bush.

Had he won, Jindal would have been the first non-white elected governor in the Deep South since Reconstruction.

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 drew sharp contrasts between herself as a warm, family-oriented public servant, and Jindal, whom she depicted as a heartless numbers cruncher and policy wonk.

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.

Three GOP governors have been elected in the last two months. If Jindal had won, it would have given Republicans a clean sweep of all the governorships in the Deep South for the first time since Reconstruction.