BOBBY JINDAL led polls in the Louisiana governor's race last fall right up to Election Day. And for good reason: He was one of the most impressive candidates either party had fielded in any election in any state in recent years. Then he lost. A 32-year-old Republican from Baton Rouge, Jindal is the son of emigrants from India. Because he is dark-skinned, there was a worry he would lose the so-called Bubba vote--code for the racist vote. Now it's clear that that's exactly what cost him the governorship.
Two political scientists from Hamilton College in New York compared the areas where David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klansman, ran well in 1991 with the vote for Jindal's Democratic opponent, Kathleen Blanco, in 2003. There was a remarkable correlation. Where Duke did well, Blanco did well.
Blanco, who'd served as lieutenant governor before being elected governor, did not make any racial appeals in the campaign. Yet she benefited enormously from race-influenced voting. "Our results indicate that a significant number of those who voted for David Duke, the most racist statewide candidate of the post-civil rights era, contrary to previous elections and even after controlling for other factors, swung their support from the non-white Republican to the white Democrat," Richard Skinner and Philip A. Klinkner concluded in their study.
The study has gotten some, but not extensive, media attention in Louisiana. Nor has Blanco been criticized for benefiting from the support of racially biased voters. This often isn't true for Republican candidates in the South, however. In circumstances similar to those in Louisiana, Republicans are blamed by Democrats and the media for winning by attracting racist votes. The conservative appeal is said to send a favorable signal to bigots.
But Jindal's fervent conservatism certainly didn't. He ran as an economic and social conservative with a strong Christian faith. The 2003 results, said Skinner and Klinkner, "indicate that racial divisions in Louisiana are not limited to the black-white divide and that the racial conservatism of many Louisiana whites extends to other racial groups."
Jindal has never attributed his loss to race. Neither have political analysts or the Louisiana press. Instead, they cited Jindal's failure to respond to ads late in the campaign in which Blanco attacked his tenure as administrator of state hospitals. These unopposed attacks were supposed to account for Blanco's late surge. But that explanation appears to have been wrong, and likely papered over a bitter truth about the racial factor.
THE TWO RESEARCHERS also compared Blanco's vote with that of other statewide Democrats. Both Blanco and Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, re-elected in 2002, won with 52 percent of the vote. "The geographic pattern of the Landrieu vote was very typical for a Democrat with a correlation of .98 with the average Democratic vote in the1996 and 2000 presidential elections," Skinner and Klinkner found. For Blanco, the correlation was .60, "indicating that Blanco was drawing support from a different set of voters."
Indeed, she was. In the 26 parishes where Duke won a majority, Blanco averaged 10 points better than Landrieu, who defeated a white Republican. The pattern was especially striking in northern Louisiana, Bubba country. In parishes where Duke got more than 55 percent, Blanco averaged 17 percentage points more than Landrieu.
Jindal's defeat came after two Republican victories in governor's races in 2003. In both Kentucky and Mississippi, Republicans won seats which had been held by Democratic governors. In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Mike Foster was stepping down.
Foster strongly endorsed Jindal, who ran the hospital system in Louisiana after serving as head of the state's colleges. Jindal had also worked in Washington as the staff director for a commission seeking to reform Medicare, and in the Bush administration as architect of its Medicare reform plan. Now he is running for the House seat being vacated by Republican David Vitter, who is running for the Senate. One poll shows Jindal with a large lead in the House contest.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.