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Indian-American Candidate for US State Governor Draws Worldwide Attention - 2003-11-16

Editor's note: With almost all of Louisiana's ballots counted late Saturday, Democrat Kathleen Blanco had 52 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Piyush "Bobby" Jindal.

Voters went to the polls in the southern state of Louisiana Saturday to decide whether their next governor should be the son of immigrants from India or a woman of French/Acadian heritage. The candidacy of Indian-American Bobby Jindal, in particular, has drawn worldwide attention.

This is a big day for 32-year-old Piyush (Bobby) Jindal, win or lose. If he wins, he will become the first non-white person since the period after the Civil War to hold the office of governor in Louisiana. If he loses, he is young enough to use the experience to advantage in a future contest.

The last polls taken before the election indicated the Republican candidate's narrow lead over Democratic rival Kathleen Blanco was evaporating. Mrs. Blanco, who is 60 years old and is currently serving as lieutenant governor, has cast herself as the more experienced candidate and has also capitalized on her status as a woman. If she is elected, she will be not only the first woman governor of Louisiana, but the first woman governor in what is considered the deep South.

But the international focus on this election is due to Mr. Jindal. His parents came to Baton Rouge in 1971 so his mother could study at Louisiana State University, or LSU. He was born shortly after their arrival.

Speaking to VOA in the final moments of his campaign, Mr. Jindal said he wants the same opportunities that drew his parents to Louisiana to be there for younger generations.

"My parents came here so my mom could go to LSU and so my dad could get a job," he explained. "It does not matter if your family came a generation ago or 10 generations ago, we all came to Louisiana for the economic and educational opportunities. This election is about making sure those opportunities continue to exist for my daughter, my parents grandchild."

As for his Indian heritage, Mr. Jindal said he would be honored to be the first-ever Indian-American elected to such a high office in the United States.

"I think this just shows that I live in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world," he said. "There are incredible opportunities in Louisiana and incredible opportunities in America. I am going to be honored, if I am fortunate enough to be given this chance by Louisiana voters. I will be honored to serve them and to create those opportunities that brought my parents to this state in the first place."

Having been born here, Mr. Jindal is a "red, white and blue American." At the age of four he told his parents he wanted to be called Bobby, after a character on one of his favorite television programs. He has been known as Bobby ever since. When he was a teenager, Bobby Jindal left behind Hinduism and became a Roman Catholic. His parents have backed him through all his moves and, though they avoid the limelight, they were at his side as he ended his campaign and left his political fate in the hands of the voters.

State election officials expect around 45 percent of Louisiana's 2.8 million voters to show up at the polls before voting ends (at 9:00 p.m. EST). But many other observers believe the excitement generated by the governor's race will result in a larger turnout.