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In runoff, Louisiana elects its 1st female governor

LAFAYETTE, La. - For the first time in its history, Louisiana has elected a female governor.

Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, defeated Bobby Jindal, a conservative Republican and an immigrant from India, with 52 percent of the vote in a runoff election Saturday, dashing the Republican Party's hopes for a sweep of the Deep South.

``The voters got energized,'' Blanco, 60, said in her victory speech.

The win gives the Louisiana governorship back to the Democrats for the first time since Governor Mike Foster was elected eight years ago. Term limits prevented Foster from running again, but he had thrown his support behind Jindal, his 32-year-old protege and a Republican whiz kid who served as an assistant health secretary under President Bush.

Blanco won with 52 percent of the vote to Jindal's 48 percent. More than half of Louisiana's 2.7 million registered voters cast ballots, a higher turnout than predicted.

``I stand here tonight disappointed, but not discouraged,'' Jindal said in his concession speech. ``We made the case that the American dream is more alive in Louisiana than anywhere else in America. Something special happened here.''

Jindal had led in most polls leading up to Saturday's election, but the numbers had been close. The week before the election, more than one in 10 voters remained undecided.

In unofficial voting results, Blanco carried 52 parishes to Jindal's 12. She took most of her native Cajun area and swamped Jindal in New Orleans, where Mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrat, had endorsed him.

``I think there was immense disappointment of the endorsement of Bobby,'' Blanco said. ``I think it had the effect of energizing our campaign.''

She also gave credit for her victory to her attacks on Jindal's record as a former state health and education official and to her final debate appearance, in which she tearfully recounted the death of her son after she was asked about the defining moment in her life.

``I've always felt or found in a big campaign, people eventually look for humanity,'' she said. Her son Ben, a college student, died in 1997, when he was hit by a weight that fell from a crane.

Sam Jones, the mayor of Franklin and a Blanco supporter, said the final debate clearly delineated the distinctions between Blanco and Jindal, who often sounded alike in their positions, touting tax cuts, improving economic development, and continuing education reform.

Jindal, a Rhodes scholar, would have been the first nonwhite governor in the Deep South since the Reconstruction. The last in Louisiana was P. B. S. Pinchback, the son of an emancipated slave, who served as acting governor for 35 days in 1872-73 during an impeachment trial of Governor Henry Clay Warmoth.

Republicans had hoped Jindal would give them a sweep of governorships in every Deep South state - Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina - for the first time since the Reconstruction.

Blanco's victory echoed the reelection a year ago of Democrat Mary Landrieu to the US Senate.

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