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Whoever wins, Louisiana's new governor will be a first

Louisiana Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal
Louisiana Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal

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Louisiana is set to elect either the state's first female governor or the country's first Indian-American governor in a runoff election.
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Bobby Jindal (R)
Age: 32
Family:  Married, one daughter
Experience: Assistant Health Secretary under Bush, 2001-2003; University of Louisiana system president, 1999-2001; Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department secretary, 1996-1998.
Education: B.S., Brown University, 1991; Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University, 1994
Kathleen Blanco (D)
Age: 60
Family: Married, six children
Experience: Lieutenant governor of Louisiana, 1996-present; Public Service Commission member, 1989-95; state representative, 1984-88; local govermnet reapportionment consultant, 1981-83; Census Bureau District Manager, 1979-80; stay at home mother, 1965-79; high school teacher, 1964-65.
Education: B.S., University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 1964.
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The winner of the Louisiana governor's race will make history Saturday.

Republican Bobby Jindal, a former federal and state health official, was born six months after his parents emigrated from India. If he wins, he will be the first non-white to be popularly elected governor of Louisiana and the nation's first Indian-American governor.

If Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco wins, she will be the first woman Louisiana has elected as its chief executive. (Related story)

The two were the top vote-getters of the 18 candidates in the October 4 election. In Louisiana, all candidates run in the general election. If no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to a runoff.

Jindal is a former Rhodes Scholar and former assistant secretary of health in the Bush administration. He also served as state health secretary under Republican Mike Foster, the current governor.

He has never held elected office, but with the backing of Foster and social conservatives, he took the most votes -- 33 percent -- in the general election. Blanco came in second with 18 percent.

Blanco, a native of Louisiana's Cajun country, is a former high school teacher and stay-at-home mother who has held public office for 20 years, eight of them as lieutenant governor. She is running on her experience, her 20 scandal-free years in public office and her centrist record.

She says that if elected, she would expand kindergarten, increase teacher pay and phase out certain business taxes to attract business to the state.

Jindal -- leading in the most recent polls -- says his priorities, if elected, will be creating jobs, improving education and making health care affordable.

"He is socially and economically conservative and is very clear about his issues," said Wayne Parent, a professor of Louisiana politics at Louisiana State University. "Jindal moved from being a long shot to a major player. Because he has never run for office and is so young, he wouldn't have been able to run, but he got the endorsement of the other politicians."

Louisiana is historically more competitive than other Southern states, and also more diverse, Parent said.

Race is a factor in any election, according to Katherine Tate, professor and chairwoman of the political science department at the University of California at Irvine.

"People of color have a hard time winning," she said.

If Blanco is an experienced campaigner, "its her race to lose. There would have to be something significant for her to fumble," Tate said.

"She's looking out for who is going to turn out at this election. Its elderly, homeowners and regular partisan voters," Tate said. "The turnout will not be spectacular, so if you can swing the partisan vote, it could be a win."

Black voters could be key

A key to the election could be the black vote, particularly in New Orleans, where a heavy Democratic turnout gave Sen. Mary Landrieu her margin of victory last year. A strong black vote Saturday could similarly push Blanco to victory. (Related story)

The state is registered 57 percent Democratic, but Jindal also has been making inroads among African-American voters. Louisiana's African-American voters make up about 30 percent of the electorate and traditionally vote Democratic.

"Bobby Jindal went after the African-American vote and got key endorsements from some key political groups," Parent said.

Jindal gained the surprise endorsement of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is black, and also picked up the backing of the Black Organization for Leadership Development, a New Orleans political group.

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, seeking the governor's office, is in a tight race with Republican Bobby Jindal.
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, seeking the governor's office, is in a tight race with Republican Bobby Jindal.

Jindal's finance report shows more than $1.2 million in the bank for the campaign. Part of this growing fund comes from generous contributions by affluent South Asians from around the country.

Sanju Basu, 37-year-old vice chairman and chief operating officer of a computer software firm, recently played host to a fund-raiser for the candidate in Washington.

"Indians across the country are pulling together [to support Jindal] irrespective of his views," Basu said.

Jindal, who is married with one child, was born Piyush Jindal before he changed his name to a character on "The Brady Bunch" television show. His parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, and he was born in Baton Rouge.

Blanco jumped into politics with an upset victory for a state House seat in 1983. She made another surprise win in 1988 when she was elected to the state Public Service Commission.

During her term as lieutenant governor, she has focused on expanding the state's tourism industry. She says that during her term, the industry has grown from $6.5 billion to $9 billion and created 21,000 jobs.

Blanco is married and has six children. She is from Lafayette, the largest city in Acadiana, a swing region that also is likely to be important to the outcome of Saturday's election.

The latest poll, by the Anderson Group, shows Jindal with a 45-38 percent lead over Blanco.

CNN's Sital Patel and CNN congressional producer Steve Turnham contributed to this report.

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