Making History in Louisiana: Runoff Election
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FOOTBALL FAN: This is called mopping it up. This is what LSU is going to do tonight, too.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When sports fans at Louisiana State throw a tail gate party, they go whole hog, with thousands of people flocking to Baton Rouge for a day long extravaganza of music, drinking and Cajun food.
GROUP: Go Bobby! Go Bobby!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But it’s also a chance to dabble in the also favored sport of politics, and meet its current Republican star, 32-year-old Bobby Jindal.
BOBBY JINDAL: I’d certainly appreciate your vote in two weeks.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jindal is drawing a lot of attention in the impending Nov. 15 runoff race for governor, because he’s an Indian American who’s never been elected to public office before.
GROUP: Blanco! Blanco!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: His opponent is 60-year-old Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, an experienced politician and a sixth-generation Cajun.
LT. GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO: Nice to see you today.
CITIZEN: Hello, how are you doing?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Whoever wins will make history, because for the first time in Louisiana’s rough and tumble politics, a white man will not be elected to the job. LSU Political scientist Wayne Parent, an expert on Louisiana politics, says the race shows how much the social climate in the state has changed.
WAYNE PARENT: We have the first woman ever in a runoff, first Indian American in the United States ever in a runoff for governor. It’s quite a change. Louisianans are patting themselves on the back. It’s funny. They’re not excited about the race, but people are sort of happy about it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They’re happy about it because it’s such a far cry from the old days. Twelve years ago, the governor’s race was all about who was the least worst candidate — Edwin Edwards, a charismatic Democrat from Cajun country, or David Duke, an avowed supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. Today, both men are in federal prison serving time on corruption and tax fraud convictions.
GROUP SINGING: My home sweet home.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In the intervening years, Louisiana politics have been relatively quiet and scandal free.
WAYNE PARENT: People aren’t as mad as they used to be. I mean, 12 years ago, people were mad as hell at corrupt politics, at the economy being in bad shape, and all that stuff. But now people just want change, but they don’t want to just punch people with their votes. And we ended up with the two candidates that were just sort of acceptable, quiet demeanor, but represented change.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jindal, who served as an assistant secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration, has tried to tie the 20-year political veteran Blanco to the past. He says if he’s elected, he’ll put that corrupt history to rest.
BOBBY JINDAL: I think that sends a loud message to the entire country that Louisiana’s changing it’s politics. Look, it’s no secret that we’re known for having interesting politics. We rank among the bottom five states on many indices when it comes to honesty and integrity in government.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Blanco says she has nothing to do with the past.
LT. GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO: My politics have never been about the politics of the old ways. My politics are creative, innovative. We’ve always done … everything we’ve done, we’ve done it different from the past. We’ve done it better than our predecessors.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The two candidates have almost identical positions on the big issues. They are opposed to abortion, they are both conservative Catholics and both want to bring jobs to the state. So it has come down pretty much to a contest of experience versus youth.
BOBBY JINDAL: I’ve not been in elected office before. I’m not a career politician. I’m a problem solver.
LT. GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO: I have the experience, the background, and the know how to make Louisiana government work for Louisiana people.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The current runoff is the result of a free for all primary with 17 candidates, in which nobody got a majority of the vote. Jindal made the runoff with a blitz radio campaign designed to appeal to religious conservatives. Now he’s using his problem-solver message to appeal to more middle of the road voters, like Baton Rouge businesswoman Tara Brown. As a senior about to retire, Brown worries about the thousands of young people who have fled the state in recent years, because they couldn’t find good jobs.
TARA BROWN: He’s smart. I think he’s got good ideas. I think he can get things done. He’s a problem solver, like he says.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: While Jindal has run a heavy TV ad campaign, Blanco has spent much more time one-on-one. She recently took a bus tour through Cajun country, one of the most competitive regions in the state, where she was comfortable speaking French and talking to small audiences.
LT. GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO: My life has been grounded here in the real world, raising six kids here in south Louisiana.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Blanco often points to Jindal’s youth, his inexperience, and tries to paint him as out-of-touch with the problems of real people.
LT. GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO: Some people crunch numbers, but they’re crunching people and services at the same time. And I know these small town problems, I know the city problems.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Voter Jonathan Holloway says she has personal appeal.
JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Once you meet her, you just want to support her. She’s that type of person. She’s genuine. That’s something you have to have that’s natural, and she’s very natural. And when she gets among the people, she’s just one of them.
BOBBY JINDAL: How are you? I’m Bobby Jindal.
CITIZEN: Nice to meet you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: LSU political scientist Parent says in the final days of the campaign, the race is close.
WAYNE PARENT: This is one of the few states in the south that is truly a 50/50 state. We’ve never elected a Republican senator, yet we have a Republican governor. Bush won, Clinton won. I mean, we go both ways. So that’s why this race is so tight.
CITIZEN: How are you?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Blanco and Jindal are both trying to appeal to the African American vote. State wide polling shows Blanco picking up support among black voters. Meanwhile, Jindal has received a major endorsement from the mayor of New Orleans, who is African American.