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Old 10-19-2007, 09:45 AM
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Running against the wind

Son of Punjabi immigrants could soon govern Louisiana

23 hours ago

NEW ORLEANS, United States (AFP) The son of Punjabi immigrants could be handed the keys to the governor's mansion in Louisiana Saturday, a state which just 16 years ago gave 39 percent of its vote to a white supremacist.

A conservative Republican, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, 36, was the second Indian-American to be elected to the US congress in 2004 following a failed bid to be governor of Louisiana, a socially conservative state which still clings to old prejudices in some places.

Some analysts blamed racial prejudice for Jindal's narrow 2003 loss to Kathleen Blanco, a white moderate Democrat whose election made her the state's first female governor.

Subsequent analysis showed that despite Jindal's ardent support for right-wing "Christian" causes, he fared poorly against the more liberal Blanco in 26 rural voting districts that were carried by Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's unsuccessful run for governor in 1991.

There were enough rural, white conservatives who were unwilling to cast their ballot for a person of color to push Blanco to a narrow win of about 50,000 votes.

But with Blanco out of the race following a huge backlash against her administration's failed response to Hurricane Katrina and no other strong opponents on the field, many analysts here say the race factor will not be enough to hold Jindal back this time.

"I don't think this election is making any sweeping statement about how much Louisiana has changed," says statewide political columnist John Maginnis, owner of Louisiana Political Fax Weekly.

"My gut feeling is he will (win Saturday)" Maginnis told AFP. "And if he doesn't, he'll be pretty close."

None of the other candidates currently running have managed to reach double digit support in recent polls.

Should Jindal manage to get one ballot more than 50 percent of the vote on Saturday he will be elected governor. If not, he heads to a runoff election on November 17.

Jindal, who adopted his nickname from The Brady Bunch television show as a boy and converted to Roman Catholicism from Hinduism as a teenager, has moved rapidly up the political ladder.

A Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Jindal was appointed secretary of the Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals at the age of 24.

After a brief stint in Washington, Jindal returned home as the youngest president of the University of Louisiana System before being appointed as a top-level policy advisor in the federal department of Health and Human Services.

Jindal, who easily won both his bids to represent a suburb of New Orleans in Congress, refused to admit that race played a factor in his failure to carry the state in 2003. But he has worked to tweak his image in his latest attempt.

He donned cowboy boots and jeans. He slowed his rapid-fire style of speaking. And he spent a lot of time in fundamentalist Christian churches.

Some analysts here said his support might not be as strong as polls show.

"We can't tell how well Jindal will do until election day, because his strength is precisely in the same region where whites said they were going to vote for him in 2003 -- but they didn't," said Lance Hill, a history professor and head of a race relations institute at Tulane University in New Orleans.

New Orleans radio talk show host Eric Asher, who has lived in that rural area, agrees.

"A lot of people up there say they will vote for Bobby Jindal," he said. "At the end of the day, a lot of people that are in the small rural towns will find it hard to vote for Bobby Jindal because he's non-white."

Jindal was born and raised in the Louisiana capital, Baton Rouge. His parents came to the United States so that his mother, pregnant with him at the time, could continue her graduate work in nuclear physics.

His father, an engineer, was one of nine children in a poor rural family in Punjab.

Jindal's first campaign sparked controversy among South Asians living in the United States.

After an initial rush of enthusiasm -- and cash -- for his campaign, many Indian and Pakistani-Americans grew disturbed by his unrelenting emphasis on his Christian faith, which they viewed as a rejection of his Indian identity.

Some 1.67 million people of Indian descent live in the United States, but only about 8,000 of them reside in Louisiana.

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Old 10-19-2007, 11:44 AM
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That could cause a problem with this year's already scheduled New Orleans version of the "Running of the Bulls."

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