Political Junkie: Jindal, Nation's Youngest Governor

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Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, discusses the history-making win in the Louisiana gubernatorial race; Rep. Bobby Jindal will become the nation's youngest governor and the first Indian-American to head a U.S. state's government.

Also, guests and callers discuss comedian Stephen Colbert's announcement that he will join the presidential race, and Mitt Romney's repeated "Osama/Obama" faux pas.

Guests:

Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, writes the "Political Junkie" column and has a weekly podcast called "It's All Politics"

Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor for Time.com

As Louisiana Goes R, Kentucky Leans D

Beshear button

hide captionJindal's win in Louisiana is a pickup for the GOP, but Democrats are expected to triumph next month in Kentucky.

Saund button

hide captionBefore Bobby Jindal, there was Dalip Saund.

Brownback button

hide captionThe latest White House dropout.

McCarthy vs. Muskie

hide captionMcCarthy portrayed his 1972 candidacy as David vs. Goliath.

Chafee button

hide captionEight years ago today, Sen. Chafee (R-RI) died in office at the age of 77.

President Bush took a major political hit in 2005 with a response to Hurricane Katrina that most felt was woefully inadequate, but the Democratic Party in Louisiana paid a price as well. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D), faulted for failing to order the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans in time and for being too slow in getting federal grants to homeowners trying to rebuild, bowed to political reality and decided in March that she would not seek a second term.

Then, on Saturday, her repudiation was complete. Republican Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar who narrowly lost to Blanco four years ago and then won election to Congress in 2004, succeeded her as governor in a landslide victory. In a 12-candidate election, where everyone regardless of party is on the same ballot, Jindal won 54 percent of the vote — enough to avoid a November runoff and claim victory. His nearest competitor, state Sen. Walter Boasso (D), took just 17 percent. It was a crushing defeat for the Democrats, who decided that the way to beat Jindal was to try to link him with President Bush and the war in Iraq. It didn't work.

Jindal made history as well, becoming the first Indian-American to serve as governor of a U.S. state. At 36, he will also be the nation's youngest governor.

Footnote: In the already-forming race to succeed Jindal in Congress, one familiar name has jumped in — Dave Treen (R), the former one-term governor (1980-83) who served in Congress in the 1970s. Treen tried to win this seat in 1999, when it was vacated by Rep. Bob Livingston (R). He was favored until a last-minute barrage of negative ads upended him and David Vitter (R), now the state's junior senator, was elected instead. But Treen is now 79 years old, a bit advanced for someone attempting a political comeback.

One more footnote: Jindal is the fourth sitting member of Congress to be elected governor of Louisiana since World War II. The others: Buddy Roemer (D) in 1987, Dave Treen (R) in 1979, and Edwin Edwards (D) in 1971.

Two other states are holding gubernatorial elections this year. One is in Mississippi, where, unlike in Louisiana, voters are quite happy with how their governor responded to Katrina. Gov. Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is a prohibitive favorite against wealthy trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves Jr. (D), whose father sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the 1975, '79 and '87 primaries. The younger Eaves is pro-gun, pro-prayer and pro-life, running a populist campaign and attacking Barbour as a captive of special interests and for his past life as a Washington lobbyist. But Barbour adeptly used his D.C. connections to get help for the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, and voters appear ready to reward him with a second term. A bunch of Democrats have recently endorsed Barbour, including ex-Rep. (and Clinton Agriculture Secretary) Mike Espy, former Gov. Bill Waller and ex-Lt. Gov. Brad Dye.

The news is not as good for Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) in Kentucky. Fletcher, who four years ago became the first Kentucky Republican elected governor since 1967, has been under investigation for at least two years over his administration's hiring practices. At one point he was actually under indictment, but the charges were eventually dropped in a deal worked out with state Attorney General Greg Stumbo (D). Some Republicans, including Fletcher himself, attribute his problems to politics, and to some extent that may be true. But his numbers have taken a nosedive and are unlikely to be reversed by Election Day. The likely beneficiary is Democratic nominee Steve Beshear, a former lieutenant governor who was crushed in his 1996 challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R). The GOP, rejuvenated with Fletcher's victory four years ago, is less than united behind the governor this time; former Congressman Larry Hopkins, who was the party's 1991 gubernatorial nominee, is one of several big-name Republicans who have endorsed Beshear.

OTHER ELECTIONS OF NOTE ON NOV. 6:

Ohio 5th Congressional District: The death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio 05) has led both parties to hold special primaries on Nov. 6. The GOP nomination in this decidedly Republican district has become a spirited affair between state Rep. Bob Latta, who lost to Gillmor by just 27 votes in the open 1988 primary, and state Sen. Steve Buehrer. The Democratic nominee will be Robin Weirauch, who lost to Gillmor in '06.

Philadelphia Mayor: The last contest for mayor in the City of Brotherly Love was front-page news around the country, as incumbent John Street (D) was the target of an FBI ethics investigation (and an apparent bugging of his office). Street is term-limited this year, and the Democratic nominee to succeed him, former city council member Michael Nutter, a fellow African-American, has none of the handicaps or negatives — or controversies — that surrounded Street. Nutter is the odds-on favorite to defeat the GOP nominee, Al Taubenberger. His biggest test was in the primary, when he got by a Dem field that included wealthy businessman Tom Knox, state Rep. Dwight Evans, and Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady. Also on the ballot: Independent Larry West and Socialist Workers candidate John Staggs.

Baltimore Mayor: Sheila Dixon (D), who became mayor when fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley was elected governor in 2006, is expected to trounce GOP nominee Elbert Henderson.

San Francisco Mayor: First-term Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat in an officially nonpartisan position, had his share of embarrassing disclosures with the news that he was having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager. That disclosure cost him his marriage but not the support of the voters; he has an easy path to re-election. Among his challengers: "Kenny the Clown," "Chicken John," and "Captain Democracy" (I'm not making this up).

Pittsburgh Mayor: No contest between Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (D) and his under-financed GOP opponent, Mark DeSantis.

Houston Mayor: Likewise for Mayor Bill White (D) over minor opposition.

Virginia State Legislature: Democrats, who have won the past two gubernatorial elections and picked up a U.S. Senate seat last year to boot, are optimistic about their chances of winning a majority in the state Senate. With all 40 members up on Nov. 6, Dems need a net gain of four to take control. It's a tougher task in the House of Delegates; Dems would need to pick up 10 seats to wrest control from the GOP.

New Jersey State Legislature: Democrats hold both houses, a narrow lead in the state Senate and a more substantial margin in the state Assembly.

Now, your questions.

Q: In the wake of Bobby Jindal's victory in Louisiana, I see that there was also an Indian-American congressman back in the 1950s. Who was he, and what do you know about him and his electoral career? — Mark Richard, Columbus, Ohio

A: Dalip Saund was born in Punjab, India, in 1899 and came to the U.S. in the 1920s. He worked to change the immigration laws that at the time forbade people born in India from becoming U.S. citizens. In the 1950s he was elected as a justice of the peace from Westmoreland County. When Rep. John Phillips (R) announced his retirement in 1956, Saund jumped into the race and won an upset victory, due in part to a factional split in the GOP. He was the first Democrat to win in the southern California 29th District, the first Indian-American congressman (the only one before Jindal) and, in fact, the first member of Congress to be born in Asia.

A landslide re-election winner in 1958 and 1960, he incurred the wrath of President Kennedy and other Democratic leaders for his opposition to JFK's foreign aid expenditures. But Saund suffered a stroke in May 1962 and never really recovered. Spending the entire campaign season as a patient at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Saund lost badly to Patrick Minor Martin (R). Saund died on April 22, 1973.

Q: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) recently said that he would drop out of the presidential race if he doesn't finish in the top four in Iowa. I can't imagine Brownback finishing in the top four in Iowa or anywhere. But has anyone finished third or fourth in Iowa and gone on to win the nomination? — B.B. Morris, Buffalo, N.Y.

A: Your question came of course prior to Brownback's Oct. 19 withdrawal from the race. No one has ever finished fourth in Iowa and wound up advancing to the general election, but in 1988 both parties' eventual nominees — George Bush (R) and Michael Dukakis (D) — finished third in the Iowa caucuses.

Q: You stated in your Oct. 17 column that Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, Democrats who at one time held the same Minnesota Senate seat, ran against each other in the 1972 primaries. Did McCarthy actually run for the nomination? I think he only ran as an independent. — Jerry Skurnik, New York, N.Y.

A: It was 1976 when McCarthy ran as an independent. In 1972, he indeed did compete in several Democratic primaries, though it was never clear whether he really hoped to win the nomination or whether he just wanted to win some delegates so his anti-Vietnam War message could be heard. If memory serves, he spent most of that campaign trying to sell himself as the alternative to then-frontrunner Sen. Ed Muskie (D-ME), and heralding the Illinois beauty-contest primary as the pivotal moment for his effort, a primary into which McCarthy was putting all of his time and resources. P.S. Muskie beat McCarthy in Illinois by 26 percentage points, and that was the end of the McCarthy '72 campaign.

By the way, elsewhere in the column we established that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were the only two candidates to run against each other for the Senate and then for the presidency. Thomas Phillips of Bastrop, Texas, says there was "at least one House race that pitted future incumbents. James Madison defeated James Monroe for a House seat in Virginia in 1789 and then beat him for president in the Democratic Republican caucus of 1808."

And while this doesn't exactly fit the theme we raised, both Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News and Thomas point out that Lloyd Bentsen (D) and George Bush (R), who squared off for a Texas Senate seat in 1970, reappeared in the national election of 1988 when Bush was elected president and Bentsen was the unsuccessful vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket. Similarly, adds Bob Kenney of Kensington, Md., John F. Kennedy (D) unseated Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (R) in the 1952 Massachusetts Senate race, and then in 1960, JFK was elected president and Lodge was the VP candidate who ran unsuccessfully with Richard Nixon.

VIRGINIA SENATE UPDATE: The latest buzz in the Old Dominion is that Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th) may not run for the Senate seat being vacated by John Warner (R) after all. Earlier this month the GOP announced it would choose its Senate nominee by convention, rather than primary, which most people took as a blow to the chances of Davis, a moderate. Conventions tend to favor more conservative candidates in Republican battles for the nomination, which could boost the chances of ex-Gov. Jim Gilmore (R). Davis is expected to announce his intentions as soon as Thursday. Both Davis and Gilmore, should either or both run, are seen as decided underdogs to former Gov. Mark Warner, the likely Democratic nominee. When John Warner announced his retirement, Davis was seen as all but certain to get into the race.

POLITICAL MISCELLANY: Former Sen. Bob Kerrey announced Wednesday that he will not return to Nebraska and seek the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Chuck Hagel; Democrats had been strongly courting him. Without Kerrey in the race, the GOP is expected to hold onto the seat. ... The special election to succeed the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA 01) will be held on Dec. 11. Her widower, Chuck Davis, is among the candidates. ... Nice piece of trivia from Farar Elliott, who works in the House Clerk's office. She says that Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), winner of the special election in Massachusetts' 5th District (see last week's column), is the first Senate widow to win a House seat in history. ...

ON THE CALENDAR:

Oct. 26-28 — Florida state Democratic convention, Lake Buena Vista. (Prediction: DNC Chairman Howard Dean will not be invited.)

Oct. 30 — Democratic presidential candidate debate, Philadelphia (MSNBC).

Nov. 2 — New Hampshire primary filing deadline.

Nov. 6 — ELECTION DAY. Also: Republican presidential debate, Iowa State University (MSNBC).

WE'RE ON THE AIR EVERY WEDNESDAY: Reading this column is bad enough; you can also hear a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, usually at 2:40 p.m. ET (sometimes, if warranted, we start at 2 p.m.; you never know in this wacky business). If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web. Special guest: Time.com's Anna Marie Cox on the hysterically funny and clever Stephen Colbert presidential candidacy. (Please note that those who might have the temerity to suggest that Colbert is not hysterically funny and clever will be bombarded with e-mails saying they are right-wing corporate shills.)

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and myself. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in political history: Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee, a four-term liberal Republican, dies of heart failure at the age of 77 (Oct. 24, 1999). His son Lincoln Chafee (R), the mayor of Warwick, will be appointed to succeed him in the Senate.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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