By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007
MIAMI, Oct. 20 -- Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) became the nation's first Indian American governor Saturday, outpolling 11 rivals in Louisiana and drawing enough votes to avoid a runoff election next month.
With about 90 percent of the state's nearly 4,000 precincts reporting, Jindal had 53 percent of the vote. His nearest competitor, state Sen. Walter J. Boasso (D), had 18 percent.
Louisiana holds an open gubernatorial election, with candidates of all parties competing. By drawing at least 50 percent of the vote, Jindal avoided a Nov. 17 runoff race with Boasso.
"Let's give our homeland, the great state of Louisiana, a fresh start," Jindal said to a cheering crowd at his victory party, according to the Associated Press.
Jindal, 36, was making his second attempt to become Louisiana's first nonwhite governor since Reconstruction. The last one was P.B.S. Pinchback, a black Republican who served briefly between 1872 and 1873, at a time when many white voters were disenfranchised.
Jindal, whose given name is Piyush, is the American-born son of Indian immigrants; his parents moved from New Delhi to Baton Rouge so his mother could take graduate classes at Louisiana State University.
But the son charted a new course in the new country.
When he was 4, he decided to call himself Bobby -- after the youngest son on the "Brady Bunch" television show. In high school, he gave up Hinduism and became a Christian; and during his first year at Brown University, he was baptized as a Roman Catholic. His wife, Supriya, is also a Catholic convert.
On the campaign trail, his origins often aroused curiosity and comment. But Jindal sometimes deflected related questions.
"People want to make everything about race," he said during one of the debates. "The only colors that matter here are red, white and blue."
Jindal has earned a political reputation as a brainy, busy wonk, one who is inclined to give a 31-point statement on an issue.
After graduating magna cum laude from Brown and being selected as a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal worked for two years as a consultant at McKinsey and Co. He then talked his way into his first high-profile political job, as Louisiana's secretary of health and hospitals. In 2001, he joined the Bush administration as the assistant health and human services secretary for planning and evaluation.
Two years later, Jindal made his first attempt at the governorship. He lost to Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in a runoff, but the race gave him the kind of statewide prominence that none of his lesser-known rivals in this year's contest could boast about. Shortly afterward, in 2004, he ran for the U.S. House from a New Orleans suburb and drew 78 percent of the vote. Last November, he was reelected with 88 percent of the vote.
In this go-round, Jindal essentially cruised through most of the campaign, outspending his rivals with ease. Boasso, who represents St. Bernard Parish, spent nearly $5 million of his own money to try to keep up.
Especially with targeted audiences, Jindal could speak to the Republican base. He professed his opposition to abortion, signaled a willingness to consider the teaching of intelligent design, and discussed the need to cut taxes.
In television ads and other, broader appeals, Jindal focused on his competence and integrity.
"We've got a government that's out of control," he said in his stump speech. "We've got a government that spends our money without any regard. We're in the top five in having the most crooked politicians in America. We're going to change that."
Wayne Parent, a political science professor at LSU and author of the 2006 book "Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics," said Jindal has benefited from a weak field of contenders and the perception of his intelligence.
"He projects himself as competent and ethical. That seems to resonate," he said.