Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blanco Bows Out

To no one's surprise, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has announced that she will not seek a second term in office. Blanco, whose inepitude after Hurricane Katrina was surpassed only by New Orleans Mayor Ray "Chocolate City" Nagin, revealed her plans last night, in a brief televised speech from the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge.

Despite a long career in state politics, Ms. Blanco will be best remembered as a bureaucratic model of indecision, both before and after the storm. With Katrina--then a Category 5 hurricane--bearing down on Louisiana, Blanco delayed evacuations of coastal residents; it literally took personal pleas from President Bush to prompt the governor and Mayor Nagin to begin moving their residents to higher ground. In Katrina's aftermath, Blanco appeared "overwhelmed" and "flustered," as the NYT charitably described her. More recently, her efforts to funnel aid to storm victims have failed badly, driving the governor's poll numbers even lower.

Blanco's performance stood in sharp contrast to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who appeared calm and decisive during the disaster. A survey conducted immediately after last November's election found that Barbour had a job approval rating of 59%--a remarkable performance, considering that portions of the state are still recovering from the storm, and that the governor's party had just taken a beating in mid-term elections. Barbour's popularity and political standing have placed him on the list of potential GOP vice-presidential nominees next year. Meanwhile, Blanco is facing retirement.

With Blanco out of the governor's race, Democrats are lobbying former Senator John Breaux to return to the state and make a run. But Breaux has been out of Louisana so long that he may not meet residency requirements--a fact that Republicans are already trumpeting in preemptive TV ads.

Breaux would be a formidable candidate, but so is Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, who narrowly lost to Blanco in 2003. Mr. Jindal, considered the presumptive GOP nominee, made his name as a 24-year-old wunderkind who turned around the state's failing Medicaid system under former governor Mike Foster. Congressman Jindal announced his candidacy in late January, but says he won't start serious campaigning until later this year--after the state legislature has finished its session. Early polls showed Blanco would get no more than a third of the vote in a match-up against Jindal, sealing her decision not to run again.

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