In a rare split with his party's leadership, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal is siding with Democrats, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in an ongoing battle over expansion of a popular children's health insurance program. President Bush recently vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have added an additional $35 million over five years to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). SCHIP targets families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The bill also would have added an estimated 4 million children to SCHIP, which now covers some 6.6 million children nationwide. In Louisiana, the bill would have made approximately 10,000 more children eligible for the program. Funds for the expansion would come from higher tobacco taxes, including a 61 cent increase on a pack of cigarettes.

In opposing the bill, Bush and other Republicans have argued that the bill undercuts private insurance by expanding the program to families that make up to 2 ½ to 3 times the federal poverty rate. Aside from Jindal, Louisiana's Republican delegation has stood by the president. Sen. David Vitter and Congressmen Charles Boustany, Richard Baker, and Jim McCrery all expressed support for Bush's veto, as well opposing an upcoming attempt to override that veto. Jindal says he plans to vote for overriding the veto, which will require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. The vote is expected to come up within the next two weeks.

Jindal had originally sided with Republicans on the issue. He voted against an SCHIP expansion bill in August but changed his vote this month after several bipartisan compromises were made in the legislation. Jindal drew some criticism for his original vote against the program from his Democratic rivals in the governor's race. Sate Sen. Walter Boasso has recently been running an ad that mentions that vote, along with other cuts Jindal made while he was head of the state's Department of Health and Hospitals, in an effort to portray the congressman as having "no heart" on important health care issues. Jindal has responded with a detailed rebuttal of Boasso's ad, defending his service as head of DHH and emphasizing his support for SCHIP expansion. Jindal says he took issue with the original SCHIP legislation because of provisions that threatened to limit choices for seniors on Medicare and raid the Medicare Trust Fund. ... KENNEDY: THE PERSISTENT CANDIDATE Even though Republican Treasurer John Kennedy is facing no opposition and will be re-elected, his campaign finance report reads like one belonging to a politician under heavy fire. He has an astounding $367,000 media buy in escrow and there's presently a new ad up in strategic markets. Kennedy also dropped roughly $41,000 on production costs last month ' after qualifying was over. He is spending thousands on Internet advertising with the likes of DeadPelican.com, BayouBuzz.com and PoliticsLA.com. Most notably, Kennedy's camp is dishing out payments ranging from $500 to $750 for "e-mail consulting" to Pat Bergeron of Baton Rouge, the mastermind behind LANewslink.com, a conservative-leaning blog and news source. Kennedy seems to be taking a cue from the playbook of congressman and fellow Republican Jindal. During his re-election to the House last year, Jindal dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars on media buys, despite facing only token opposition. The strategy was simple ' his bid for governor was right around the corner and federal dollars cannot be spent on state campaigns, or visa-versa. As for Kennedy, it seems more likely than ever that he's gearing up to run in 2008 against U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from New Orleans. ... EARLY VOTING RUNS THROUGH OCT. 13 You don't have to wait to cast your ballot in this year's election. Voters either unable to make it to the polls on Oct. 20, or who may just want to get their election duties out of the way, can turn in early ballots this week. The early voting period runs through Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters office downtown at 1010 Lafayette St. The office is open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. A picture ID is required to vote. Those unable to make it to the polls on Oct. 20 may also request a mail-in absentee ballot from the Secretary of State's office. Voters can also view sample ballots online at the secretary of state's Web site by selecting "candidate ballot number information" and entering their parish and precinct number. For more information, call the Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters Office at 291-7140 or visit www.sos.louisiana.gov.

Contributors: Jeremy Alford and Nathan Stubbs