| Bobby Jindal with wife Supriya and daughter Selia-Elizabeth in New Orleans on Sunday. (AFP)
New Orleans, Nov. 16: The Great Indian-American Dream did not come true on Saturday night but it is alive and spoiling for a fight.
Bobby Jindal, the Indian-origin Republican whiz kid, lost a hard-fought race in an eleventh hour setback that gave Louisiana its first elected woman governor in Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.
In the tight contest, Blanco got 730,747 votes (52 per cent) and Jindal had 676,180 votes (48 per cent).
Jindal, who would have been the first governor of Indian descent in the US and the first non-White to lead the southern state since the Reconstruction era after the American Civil War, kept his sense of humour as the grim outcome was announced. “At least, the Tigers won tonight,” he said in his concession speech in a reference to the victory of the state university’s football team.
He also kept the dream alive. “We made the case that the American dream is more alive in Louisiana than anywhere else. We proved that any child in Louisiana, whether their family has been here for six generations or one, whether they went to rich private schools or public schools like mine, they dream big dreams right here in Louisiana,” he said.
Jindal never directly conceded defeat. “I stand here disappointed but not discouraged,” he said.
He did not say whether he would run for office again. At 32, age is on his side and he has the stamina to stay the course for another round. “I am never going to stop fighting to make the state better,” Jindal said in his speech.
The election was one of the most closely watched in the storied, stormy history of Louisiana politics. Jindal, in particular, garnered significant American, as well as Indian, attention, partly because of his youth, but largely because former Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke was still a popular political candidate among white conservatives in Louisiana just a decade ago.
Opinion polls had given a thin edge to Jindal but Blanco scored points in the campaign’s final days with attacks on Jindal’s performance as health secretary. His policies, she said, caused 65,000 people to lose medical aid coverage.
Jindal’s conservative views, too, left a mark. Voters interviewed as they cast their ballots on Saturday said they were torn -- attracted to Jindal’s youthful charisma but wary of his social conservatism.
“He’s a little too conservative to me,” said Jay Forman, 31, a technical writer for an educational software company. “But I voted for him because he’s impressed me with his accomplishments so far. I think he can do more for the state.”
Lisa Hicks, 42, who described herself as a bartender-gardener-writer and rode a bicycle with purple handlebars to cast her vote, voted for Blanco. She said she was turned off by Jindal’s conservative political stances.
Jindal opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest, and favours sweeping limits on government regulation. A Catholic Christian who converted from Hinduism when he was 18, Jindal also favours programmes designed to fold religion into public life. Hicks said: “I think he’s way out of touch.”
Political experts had thought Jindal could attract enough black votes to win after he worked hard to woo them and succeeded in winning the endorsement of a number of black organisations and leaders, including New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.
Republicans had worked for a Jindal win, saying it would add to the party’s momentum after the recent gubernatorial wins and could be a good sign for President George W. Bush ahead of the 2004 presidential and congressional elections.
While Bush campaigned for winners in the other southern states, he did not appear in Louisiana, where analysts said he might have been a liability in Jindal’s quest for black support.
Republicans have enjoyed a string of key victories in the last two months, starting with the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A Jindal victory would have given the Republicans simultaneous control of the governor’s mansions in the five Deep South states -- Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi -- for the first time since Reconstruction.
With Los Angeles Times-Washington Post and agency reports