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Louisiana Governor's Election to Make History in Southern US State - 2003-11-14

In the southern state of Louisiana on Saturday, voters will make history regardless of which candidate they elect as governor. They will choose between electing the first-ever woman to hold that office or the first non-white person, the son of immigrants from India. The race has tightened in the final days and is too close to call.

The latest public opinion polls show a virtual dead heat between Democratic candidate Kathleen Blanco and her Republican opponent Piyush "Bobby" Jindal. In polls taken a week ago, Mr. Jindal had a several point lead, but the latest polls show Mrs. Blanco gaining.

With time running out, both candidates are saturating the airwaves with their messages.

The Blanco campaign is attacking Bobby Jindal's record while he was director of the state's Department of Health and Hospitals. The Blanco ads claim that Mr. Jindal took a $25,000 pay increase while cutting benefits for thousands of people.

Mr. Jindal defends his record, saying he cut waste from the system while he served in that office. His ads, meanwhile, emphasize his youth and enthusiasm and refer to Mrs. Blanco as a "career politician" who is backed by a political machine.

Professor Ed Renwick, a political analyst based at New Orleans' Loyola University, says both candidates are conservatives who differ very little on issues. But, in a VOA interview, he says the election of either one of them will have a big impact on Louisiana, both internally and externally.

"I think, as far as image, if she wins it will certainly improve the image of Louisiana in the country," he said. "If he wins, not only would it improve the image in the United States, but, I think, worldwide. India is the second largest country in the world, so, I think, if he wins, in Asia, that will be seen as a significant situation."

The Jindal candidacy, in particular, has drawn worldwide attention. There are reporters and television crews from Europe and Asia here covering the election.

Professor Renwick says the state's image suffered when a former Ku Klux Klan leader came close to winning the governor's race 12 years ago. He says this election is different from most previous elections in the state because both candidates are attractive and intelligent and voters are enthusiastic about the choice they have to make.

He says, with the race so tight, voter turnout is of critical importance in determining the outcome. Professor Renwick says the modern voting system in place in Louisiana should make it possible to know the results within a few hours of the polls closing late Saturday.