The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brown Bobby bridges south’s colour divide

Lafayette, Louisiana, Nov. 14: The Republican candidate for governor in Louisiana is Bobby Jindal, a wonderkind son of Indian immigrants, dark-complexioned Rhodes scholar and health policy expert. The Democrat is Lt Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a soothing grandmother easily flustered in debates.

What’s a Bubba (a conservative white male commoner of the south) to do'

“Listen, man, we’re looking at a guy who’s not even from this country! And then we’re looking at a woman!” said Jubal Vallot, 38, a handyman in Lafayette sporting tattoo-spangled forearms, a Chevy pickup truck and a fist-size clump of keys at his belt.

He hooted and shook his head at the outlandishness of the selection. “I go to church, I believe in the good Lord and this ‘’ that. I never ever dreamed in my whole life — I been right here in Louisiana — that I’d be in this kind of dilemma.”

Vallot’s dilemma is to pick from a pair of untainted, nearly equally conservative candidates in Saturday’s election.

A victory for the 32-year-old Jindal — most polls show him leading — will crown one of the most improbable political sagas in memory and, say analysts, thrust Jindal instantly into the Republican orbit of rising stars.

With shrewd use of media and his own youth, vigour and command of policy, analysts say, Jindal has fashioned an unlikely coalition that includes moderate Republican suburbanites, some urban blacks and Democrats, and socially conservative rural whites — Bubbas.

He has been aided by a general sense of despair and longing for change in a state which ranks among the bottom 10 states in many indicators of prosperity.

But analysts say Jindal has also capitalised on a double-barrelled media strategy in which he courts conservatives in radio ads that deride liberals, Hollywood and gun control while appealing to moderates in television commercials that portray him as a pragmatic “problem solver”. He also emphasises his faith; he is a devout Catholic.

Blanco, 60, is a political veteran who has managed to ruffle few feathers in her long career in public office. She has thumped Jindal as a young, inexperienced and callous bureaucrat who was heedless to the human suffering he caused as a budget-cutting chief of the state’s health system in the mid-1990s.

Though a Democrat, she is hardly less conservative than Jindal. Blanco opposes new taxes, abortion and an increase in the minimum wage and embraces Catholicism and gun owners’ rights.

The fact that there is little to divide them ideologically has apparently helped Jindal with black voters, who make up about 30 per cent of the electorate, analysts say. Recent polls show Jindal with the support of more than 10 per cent of black voters — at least twice the usual total for a Republican candidate here.

“If you close eyes and you didn’t see the ‘D’ or the ‘R’, how would you determine which one belongs to which party'” said Donald Cravins, a black state senator from Lafayette who cannot remember ever supporting a Republican for statewide office.

At the same time, Jindal has managed to appeal to deeply conservative Louisianans like Vallot, who twice voted for a white supremacist in the ’90s. “It’s hard to believe I’m even going to look at this man — at first he almost looked to me like an Iraqi,” Vallot said, speaking of Jindal. “But I tell you, he talks so smart, and he’s hitting the hammer right on the nailhead.”

In fact, Jindal is not from another country; he was born in Baton Rouge shortly after his parents, originally from Punjab, immigrated to the US. Named Piyush by his parents, Jindal, when barely a toddler, changed his name to Bobby.

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