Louisiana is poised to elect its first Catholic governor in more than 100 years. The two frontrunners in the upcoming state election Nov. 15 are both Catholics running for office in a state with deep anti-Catholic roots.
Republican Bobby Jindal, who would become the first Indian-American governor, and Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who would become the first female governor, have both spoken of their faith publicly. They claim to be pro-life and to favor the ban of partial-birth abortions recently approved by Congress.
However, the two candidates differ in their pro-life stance. While Blanco thinks abortions should be legal in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, Jindal does not favor abortions under any circumstances. Jindal also supports the public display of the Ten Commandments, the teaching of creationism in schools and government aid to faith-based initiatives.
According to the Times-Picayune, Jindal’s standard speech includes at least a passing mention of his faith often speaking about his teenage conversion.
Blanco is much less vocal about her faith and usually only speaks about it when asked. She tends to keep to economic issues and her record of public service, said the Times-Picayune, adding that she has at times shied away from hot social issues such as abortion and reluctantly relented to answering them. However, the newspaper reported that she said she would sign a bill outlawing abortion if it reflected her views.
With the exception of Edwin Edwards, Louisiana’s last Catholic governor was Samuel Douglas McEnery, who left office in 1888. Though Edwards, who was elected in 1972, claimed to be Catholic, he created major controversy when he said he didn't believe that Christ literally rose from the dead.
Louisiana’s anti-Catholic history goes back to the early 20th century when huge European Catholic migration to the U.S. century created suspicion among many Protestants, explained William Maestri of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Each group tended to stick with their own kind and this was evident in the polls as well, creating clear political divisions along religious lines. Hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, targeted Catholics as well.
But political observers now say that such distinctions have disappeared, especially since Protestants and Catholics have found themselves working together more on common social issues, such as abortion.