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Louisiana picks Gov. Jindal

The Republican will be the nation's youngest governor at 36, and the first Indian American ever to lead a state.

October 21, 2007|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Republican Bobby Jindal won election as Louisiana governor Saturday, setting a string of firsts and leaving no doubt that the state's voters strongly desire new leadership two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Jindal, 36, will be the nation's youngest sitting governor. The son of Indian immigrants, he will also be the first Indian American governor in U.S. history, and the first nonwhite to hold the job in Louisiana since Reconstruction.

The election of Jindal, who is a conservative, underscores the fast-fading fortunes of the Democratic Party in Louisiana after the hurricanes.

Under Louisiana's wide-open "jungle primary" format, Jindal had a chance Saturday to win the race outright if he could capture more than half the votes in a field of 12 candidates.

He did. With nearly all precincts counted, he held 54% of the vote.

The next closest competitor, Democrat Walter J. Boasso, had 18%. Independent John Georges had 14%; Democrat Foster Campbell had 13%.

It was Jindal's second try at the governorship. He was edged out in a runoff four years ago by Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who did not seek reelection. Her post-Katrina performance has drawn heated criticism. Jindal has been representing Louisiana's 1st Congressional District since 2004.

This time, Jindal's campaign felt more like a coronation than a contested race.

The rise of Jindal, educated at Brown and Oxford universities, also suggested that Louisianians, who have often elected quirky politicians from the backwoods and bayous, may now be seeking something different.

Jindal has made a few stylistic concessions to suit the electorate: For instance, he goes by Bobby, though his given name is Piyush.

Democrats make up about half of the 2.8 million registered voters in Louisiana, outnumbering Republicans by nearly 2 to 1. But the number of registered Democrats has dropped by nearly 57,000 since the 2005 hurricanes. Residents have criticized the state government, which is dominated by Democrats, as incompetent and corrupt.

Jindal capitalized on that sentiment, making the fight to root out Louisiana's corruption a central theme of his campaign. One of his commercials portrayed his Democratic rivals as crooked clowns with cash coming out of their pockets.

No prominent Democrat stepped in to challenge Jindal, leaving Boasso and Campbell to divvy up their party's vote and providing an opening for Georges, a wealthy independent.

In the end, Jindal's rivals all took hard shots at the front- runner.

Georges tried to argue that Jindal's academic accomplishments were unfitting for Louisiana, bragging that "John Georges is not an intellectual."

Yet on Saturday, Louisiana voters flocked to the Oxford guy.

miguel.bustillo@latimes.com

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