The election of Kathleen Babineaux Blanco as Louisiana's first
woman governor marks a significant change in style and tone in one
of the nation's most raucous political states - and a rare boost for
the Democrats in the South.
As a low-key career politician and middle-of-the-road Democrat,
Ms. Blanco is expected to move Louisiana away from the big-
personality politics of the past and instead emphasize more mundane
issues like the business climate.
Experts say the watchword here for the next four years may be tax
codes and corporate flight rather than the flamboyance, and often
corruption, that has dominated so much of the state's politics of
the past from both sides of the aisle.
Almost overnight, Blanco will also become a prominent face in the
Democratic Party nationally. Her victory Saturday, by a 52-to-48
margin over an Ivy League whiz kid Republican, gives the Democrats
something to boast about. Finally.
After last week's loss of the governors' mansions in Kentucky and
Mississippi, as well as the recent ouster of California Gov. Gray
Davis in a recall vote, Blanco represents the first Democrat to
carry a state so far this year. Perhaps more important, her victory
keeps the Republicans from anointing a new star. Her opponent, Bobby
Jindal, was vying to become the first Indian American to run a state
in US history. Though only 32, he had already served as a senior
health-policy official in the Bush administration, ran Louisiana's
biggest cabinet-level department and its largest university system.
The former Rhodes Scholar had captured widespread national attention
as a politician to watch.
The outcome reflected both tactical elements and deeper forces at
work in Louisiana. Political analysts here pin Mr. Jindal's loss, in
part, on the failure to answer a series of negative political
advertisements in the final week of the campaign. Blanco
successfully shifted her strategy, trying to define the differences
between the two candidates - particularly on health care and
Blanco also sought to portray herself as a warm, family-oriented
public servant, while depicting her opponent as a heartless number
cruncher. Her 20 years in public office - as a former state
representative, the first woman on Louisiana's powerful Public
Service Commission, and most recently as lieutenant governor -
clearly resonated with some voters.
An election about change
Yet no matter who would have won, there is little doubt this
election was about change. With the exception of a black Republican
who served as acting governor for 35 days during Reconstruction,
Louisiana has sent only white men to the governor's mansion. "This
is about the New South emerging," said US Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), as
she barnstormed across the state with Blanco in a Winnebago.
Moreover, many of the governors or would-be governors of the past
have been colorful characters. David Duke, a well-known white
supremacist, ran for governor as a Republican 12 years ago and
managed to garner 39 percent of the vote. …