Louisiana kicks off 2007 gov races

 
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The country could have its first new governor of the 2007 elections this Saturday (Oct. 20) if U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) holds on to his lead and wins a majority of the vote in Louisiana's gubernatorial primary. But the decision could hinge on a football game.
 
Only in Louisiana, known for its peculiar election laws and devotion to college football, could a Louisiana State University football game once again play a role in deciding the victor in a governor's race.
  
Jindal is worried that voters will be so distracted by this Saturday's LSU-Auburn University football game - held the same day as the primary - that they will forget to vote.
  
The last time Jindal made a bid for the governor's mansion in 2003, the LSU Tigers played the Crimson Tide in Alabama on Election Day. "I can't tell you how many people came up to me and said, `I was going to vote for you, but I went to the game,'" Jindal told The Associated Press earlier this month.
  
Jindal had been leading in the polls in 2003 but lost to Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). She opted not to run for re-election this year after she was roundly criticized for her performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
 
In addition to the college football game, Oct. 20 also is the first day of deer season for several areas in the state. "People are always worried about LSU and hunting coinciding on weekends in which elections are held," said Kurt Corbello, associate professor of political science and director of the Southeastern Louisiana University's recent polls on the race .
  
Louisiana is one of three states electing governors this year, but the Bayou State is the only one in which a candidate can win outright by garnering more than 50 percent of the ballots cast in the primary. Kentucky and Mississippi have already held their primaries and will elect governors Election Day Nov. 6. 
  
In Kentucky, voters will decide whether to give Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), who has been dogged by a hiring scandal for the past two years, another term in office, or to oust him and elect former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. And in the first election since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi appears in a strong position to best Democrat John Eaves, an attorney.
  
Jindal has been hovering around the 50 percent mark in recent polls. "I can't say it's a done deal, but it's moving in that direction," said Bernie Pinsonat, a partner with the Southern Media and Opinion Research , a polling company in Baton Rouge. Pinsonat said the candidates have done a good job reminding voters that the primary and LSU game are on the same day .
  
If Jindal wins Saturday, he would become the first Indian American governor and only the third Louisianan gubernatorial candidate in more than 50 years to win the office without a runoff, said Henry Robertson who heads the history and political science division at Louisiana College in Pineville, La,. "That's a really important milestone." Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar, was born in Baton Rouge of parents who emigrated from India.
  
Others who were victorious in a primary were Edwin Washington Edwards, a scandal-tainted four-term governor who eventually went to prison on extortion charges but who won outright in 1976, and Earl K. Long, brother of legendary Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long, who did it in 1956. Both were Democrats.
  
If Jindal fails to post a majority, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will square off Nov. 17. Jindal's competitors include Democratic state Sen. Walter Boasso, who was a Republican until recently; Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D) and John Georges (Independent).
  
This year may be the last time Louisianans get to vote this way. Observers are closely watching a case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Washington's primary system , which has a similar "top-two" run-off system. If the Washington system gets tossed out, some expect a legal challenge in Louisiana.
  
Louisianans know only too very well that their unusual primary scheme sometimes can benefit fringe candidates. In the 1991 gubernatorial race, one of the two top vote-getters was David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who ran as a Republican. "There's no way the hierarchy of the Republican Party wanted Duke running as a Republican," Corbello of Southeastern Louisiana University, said. Duke then lost to Edwards in the runoff.
  
Even without a lawsuit, voting for federal offices in Louisiana will change next year. The Legislature voted last year to let only registered members of political parties vote in primary contests for federal offices, but left the open primary system for state and local elections.
The 2007 election also marks the first time that term limits hit the Louisiana Legislature, threatening more Democrats than Republicans and putting the GOP in striking distance of taking control of the one of the Statehouse chambers for the first time since Reconstruction. In the Louisiana House, for example, 29 of 63 Democrats will get booted out because of term limits compared to only 16 of 41 current Republican House members. All legislative seats in Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia also are on the ballot this year but are not affected by term limits.
   
V oters in Louisiana also will take up four constitutional amendments Saturday. Two of the measures affect salaries for police officers; another focuses on the administration of state and city retirement benefits and another would exempt jewelry from property taxes.
   
Those ballot measures are among nearly 40 that voters in seven states will take up this fall. Oregon, for example, will weigh in on property rights; stem cell research is on tap in New Jersey, and Utahans will decide whether they want to launch the nation's broadest statewide education voucher program.
 
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