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Free-for-all 

Eighteen candidates are vying for governor in Louisiana's unique all-party primary. And that's just for starters.

Louisiana's 2.7 million voters go to the polls this Saturday, Oct. 4, in a statewide primary to choose a new governor and five other statewide officials -- as well as state lawmakers, sheriffs, clerks of court, assessors and other parish officials. One statewide official, Treasurer John Kennedy, was re-elected after no one qualified against him.

In addition to several hundred candidates across the state, 15 constitutional amendments also are on the ballot, along with local referenda that vary from parish to parish.

In New Orleans, the statewide elections and amendments will be joined by a referendum on whether to allow slots at the Fair Grounds Racetrack. Fair Grounds officials have promoted the referendum as the best way to "save the Fair Grounds" from economic extinction. The nearby neighborhood association, however, opposes the measure.

In Jefferson, voters will elect a new parish council with two at-large seats and five districts -- a change from the old pattern of six districts and a single council president elected at-large. Most agree the change was prompted by term limits imposed by voters several years ago.

Far and away the most watched election is the contest for governor. Under Louisiana's unique open primary system, all candidates run against one another in an all-party free-for-all, with the two top finishers (regardless of party affiliation) squaring off in a Nov. 15 runoff. If one candidate wins a majority in the primary, of course, he or she would be the winner -- but no one expects that to happen in the governor's race.

Eighteen candidates qualified for governor, with seven emerging as the major contenders. Of those seven, four are Democrats and three are Republicans.

The top issues by far have been economic development and jobs, with each candidate promising to find ways to stop an outward migration of talented young professionals.

Although voters seem to want change, there has been no "bogeyman" to galvanize citizens along philosophical or racial lines. For the first time since 1971, this year's race for governor does not feature Edwin Edwards, David Duke or a major African-American political figure. That may explain why so many voters are lethargic about the campaign; while most voters agree Louisiana needs change, they don't appear to be angry with anyone currently in office. More than 40 percent of the state's legislators were re-elected without opposition.

Since January, candidates for governor have raised and spent well in excess of $10 million running for the office, making politics one of Louisiana's few growth industries.

Here's a look at each of the major candidates for governor:

Kathleen Blanco -- The state's lieutenant governor for the past eight years, Blanco led the field in every independent voter survey since the earliest stages of the campaign. In recent weeks, polls have shown her tied or virtually tied for the lead with Republican Bobby Jindal.

A moderate Democrat from Lafayette and the only female candidate, the 60-year-old Blanco runs strongest in her native Acadiana and first among the state's women voters -- giving her a base that is broad as well as deep.

Cajuns are consistently the "swing vote" in statewide contests, largely because they include the largest bloc of white voters who could vote for either a Democrat or a Republican. This year, Blanco is breaking new ground by combining Cajuns and women. She has surprised opponents and pundits alike by clinging to her early lead in the polls, despite the historic tendency of moderate front-runners to lose their edge in the final stages of Louisiana's open primary elections.

Blanco has campaigned largely on her experience as a legislator, public service commissioner and lieutenant governor. As lieutenant governor, she oversaw the state's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. In her ads, she takes credit for New Orleans' huge increase in tourism and conventions, saying her efforts created more than 20,000 jobs.

Despite her early and enduring status as a front-runner, Blanco lagged in fundraising for the first three quarters of this year. As the primary approaches and she remains at or very near the top, however, the "smart money" has begun to flow her way. In recent weeks, she garnered a key endorsement from Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon, a Republican.

Jay Blossman -- The Public Service Commissioner from Mandeville has been among the most aggressive campaigners in the race. Largely self-financed as a candidate, the 38-year-old Republican ran hard at right-wing voters and continues to identify himself as the only "true conservative" in the contest. He is staunchly pro-gun, anti-tax (he promises to repeal the Stelly Amendment, which traded temporary state sales taxes for broader income taxes), and pro-life.

From the get-go, Blossman has taken on Gov. Mike Foster, a move that probably cost him among rural conservatives. Revelations that he visited a ritzy Santa Fe spa as the guest of a utility company that he regulates also hurt his credibility across the board. Foster used his weekly radio show to dub him "spa boy" -- and the moniker stuck. More recently, lobbyist disclosures showed that Blossman dined at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge as the guest of a river pilots organization, another industry regulated by the PSC.

Blossman garnered headlines briefly in August when he formed a "ticket" with former Congressman Clyde Holloway, a staunchly conservative Republican who is running for lieutenant governor. Blossman's hope was that Holloway could help him win rural conservatives and Christians, but he continues to run last in statewide voter surveys (the latest has him at 2 percent).

Blossman's most recent TV ads are aimed at undecided voters. Another ad triggered accusations of race-baiting because it claimed the state spent $400,000 on a posh bus for state Sen. Cleo Fields, an African-American lawmaker from Baton Rouge who ran for governor eight years ago.

Hunt Downer -- The Houma Republican and former Louisiana House speaker launched his campaign as the traditional, fiscally conservative GOP candidate. His chief financial backer, shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger of Lockport, presided over an effort to whittle down the once-crowded field of Republican candidates -- and succeeded in getting the field reduced to three. That did not inure appreciably to Downer's benefit in the polls, however. He has remained in single digits, a few points above Blossman.

Downer's campaign received a major boost in recent weeks, when the Alliance for Good Government gave him its coveted endorsement. He also received a nod from the New Orleans-based Regular Democratic Organization, the second-oldest political organization in the country. A general in the Louisiana National Guard, the 57-year-old Downer has also received significant support from police and military groups.

Downer started his career as a Democrat and won the speaker's job with Gov. Mike Foster's help in 1996 while still a Democrat. In 2000, he became one of the leading Louisiana Democrats to support George W. Bush's candidacy for president, and he officially switched his party registration in a White House ceremony shortly after Bush's inauguration in 2001. Downer said he made the switch because he was impressed with the president's "compassionate conservatism."

Among the state's conservative voters, Downer appears to have been out-flanked by Bobby Jindal, who has Gov. Mike Foster's support and significantly more campaign cash than Downer. In recent weeks, Downer made headlines briefly when burglars broke into his Baton Rouge campaign headquarters and stole the laptop computers of several top campaign staffers.

Randy Ewing -- The only major candidate from north Louisiana, Ewing capped his three terms in the state Senate by serving as its president from 1996-2000. He opted not to seek a fourth term to underscore his personal commitment to term limits, and he instead returned to his family's lumber, farming and banking interests.

A moderate on social issues and a fiscally conservative Democrat, the 59-year-old Ewing is the darling of reformers for his business-like approach to government and his staunch support of political reform. While in the Senate, he led the fight for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment and other reforms, including lobbyist disclosure and a ban on campaign fundraisers for lawmakers during legislative sessions.

Ewing's campaign enjoyed an early bounce when he made major in-roads among moderate Democrats, but he ultimately failed to break out of single digits in most polls. He beat out all other Democrats to win the support of popular New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and last week he garnered endorsements from a number of newspapers, including Gambit Weekly, the Shreveport Times and the Monroe News-Star.

Ewing touts his business credentials and his unblemished tenure in the Senate as his chief qualifications, and he says the key to getting Louisiana's economy moving again is to use sound business practices in government. He proposes trimming administrative costs in the state's highway program and using the savings to leverage up to $1 billion in highway construction loans. Upgrading Louisiana's transportation infrastructure, Ewing says, is the crucial first step to economic development. He also opposes any new taxes and would remove taxes on business loans and sales taxes on manufacturing equipment.

Richard Ieyoub -- The state's attorney general since 1992, the 59-year-old Ieyoub previously served as district attorney in his hometown of Lake Charles. A moderate Democrat with strong crime-fighting credentials, Ieyoub has the broadest base of endorsements -- from labor unions to a Fortune 500 CEO, from trial lawyers to a statewide physicians group. Ieyoub also has garnered support from teachers, sheriffs, local black politicos and organizations, and district attorneys.

In the early going, Ieyoub appeared to have a lock on one of the two runoff positions, but a failure to lock up a solid majority of the state's African-American voters caused him to falter after Labor Day. Ieyoub has raised more money from third-party contributors than any other candidate, but he was no match for Buddy Leach's extravagance (virtually all of it from personal sources) with black leaders and organizations. As Leach crept upward in the polls, he did so almost exclusively at Ieyoub's expense.

As September waned, Ieyoub appeared to move back into striking distance of the two front-runners, Blanco and Republican Bobby Jindal. In the closing weeks, he and Leach began waging a pitched battle for the hearts, minds and votes of the state's African-American citizens. Meanwhile, fellow Democrat Blanco remained tied for first in the polls.

Unlike Leach, Ieyoub also attracts moderates and conservatives because of his crime-fighting record. He established a nationally recognized school safety program and lobbied lawmakers to toughen anti-drunk driver laws. Although he has not promoted it during his campaign, Ieyoub's office solved the Baton Rouge serial killer case -- even though his offers of assistance were shunned by the Serial Killer Task Force.

Bobby Jindal -- The 32-year-old Jindal has been the juggernaut of the campaign. He announced his candidacy in January, started with no money, and within six months was the leading Republican and co-leader overall (with Ieyoub) in third-party contributions. In the final weeks, polls showed Jindal leading or tied for the lead.

Tapped by Gov. Mike Foster at the age of 24 to lead the state's largest and most unwieldy department (Health and Hospitals), the Baton Rouge native impressed everyone with his keen intellect and easygoing manner. A Rhodes scholar, Jindal moved on to direct a bi-partisan federal commission on Medicare reform, then returned to Louisiana at Foster's invitation to oversee one of the three state college systems. He went back to Washington in 2001 to become a top health care adviser to President Bush, then returned home this year to run for governor. His top supporter is Gov. Mike Foster, who is pulling out all the stops to get him elected.

Born a Hindu to Asian Indian immigrants, Jindal converted to Catholicism in college. He has run two campaigns concurrently -- one aimed at the Christian Right and based on social and religious conservatism (via radio ads), the other (via TV) aimed at traditional conservatives and based on economic development, his credentials as an administrator and Foster's support. Both campaigns appear to have worked for him. Polls show he is favored by right-wingers as well as traditional economic conservatives.

In addition to Foster's endorsement, Jindal won the support of The Times-Picayune. He also had adopted some of Foster's favorite issues, such as opposition to laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Buddy Leach -- A former state legislator and former congressman, Leach has out-spent his opponents by a huge margin, yet almost all of his campaign money has come from his family. His wife Laura's family has vast land holdings that produce enormous mineral royalties.

Easily the most liberal Democrat in the race, the 69-year-old Leach has put forth a traditional populist message. He favors a statewide minimum wage that is $1 above the national minimum, guaranteed raises for school teachers, taxing "foreign" oil processed in Louisiana, and universal health care. His message has resonated among many black voters, particularly after he won key endorsements from state Sen. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge and Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans.

Leach broke new ground in this governor's race not only by loaning his campaign $4.5 million (as of late August -- he is expected to spend at least that much more by Election Day) but also by targeting black voters in his TV ads. Traditionally, white candidates court black voters via radio ads and "go white" on TV. Not Leach. That tack paid off after Labor Day, when surveys showed him moving up significantly. He is said to have nearly $5 million on hand for a statewide Election Day "get out the vote" effort.

Leach's critics call him arrogant, and he is tainted by a 25-year-old vote-buying scandal that arose from his campaign for Congress. Many of those around him went to jail in that federal investigation, but Leach was acquitted after a trial. His critics say he is still buying votes today, although this time around he reportedly is hiring major black politicos as "consultants."

Other Candidates -- In addition to the seven major candidates, 11 others are stumping the state on low budgets and hoping to get a share of the vote. They include:

· Alan Allgood of Harvey, a Republican;

· Patrick Henry "Dat" Barthel of St. Rose, a Democrat;

· Quentin R. Brown Jr. of New Orleans, no party listed;

· J. D. "Boudreaux" Estilette of Lafayette, no party listed;

· Former state Sen. J. E. Jumonville of Ventress, a Democrat;

· Patrick "Live Wire" Landry of Jefferson, no party listed;

· Eddie Mangin of Chalmette, no party listed;

· Richard McCoy of Kenner, a Democrat;

· Fred Robertson of New Orleans, a Democrat;

· John M. "Doc" Simoneaux of Plaquemine, no party listed; and

· Mike Stagg of Lafayette, a Democrat.

click to enlarge The most watched election is the contest to replace Mike Foster as governor. Under Louisiana's unique open primary system, all candidates run against one another in an all-party free-for-all; if no candidate wins a majority, the two top finishers square off in a Nov. 15 runoff. -  - DAVID RICHMOND
  • David Richmond
  • The most watched election is the contest to replace Mike Foster as governor. Under Louisiana's unique open primary system, all candidates run against one another in an all-party free-for-all; if no candidate wins a majority, the two top finishers square off in a Nov. 15 runoff.

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