BILOXI, Miss. – After Hurricane Katrina roared in, Gov. Haley Barbour (search) quickly convened a special legislative session and, just 10 days after the storm, appointed a commission to study rebuilding Mississippi's coastline.
The former Republican National Committee chairman and influential Washington lobbyist also traveled to the nation's capital several times to extract promises of federal aid from friends in the Bush administration.
Because of the Barbour's take-charge approach to the disaster, even some of Mississippi's staunchest Democrats saying he may be tough to beat if he seeks a second term in 2007.
In Louisiana, response to the governor's handling tells a different story: Some pundits suspect Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) could prove to be a one-termer when she comes up for re-election the same year.
Some critics — particularly Republicans, but also some Democrats — say Blanco was overwhelmed by the disaster and paralyzed with indecision. They say she was too slow to call for federal assistance as Katrina approached and in the first days after the storm, when New Orleans descended into chaos.
She did not appoint her rebuilding commission until weeks after the storm, by which time the Mississippi recovery group had already held its first meetings. And only now is she bringing Louisiana lawmakers into session to work on hurricane reconstruction. The session opens on Sunday.
"Louisiana is bleeding to death and there has been no stoppage of the bleeding. That is uniquely and specifically the governor's job, and I don't think Kathleen Blanco, personally or otherwise, is up to the task and may never be again," said Elliott Stonecipher, a Louisiana pollster and political analyst.
Political analysts warn that it is way too early to write anyone off or declare someone's future is assured. But in Katrina's aftermath, it is clear that in the two neighboring states, one governor's political stock has gone up, while the other's has fallen precipitously.
In Blanco's defense, analysts note that she does not enjoy the same buddy-buddy relationship that Barbour has with President Bush. During one of the president's trips to Louisiana, Blanco learned of Bush's schedule from reporters, not from the White House. And if Blanco seemed overwhelmed by Katrina, she was not alone.
"George Bush seems overwhelmed by it all, too," said Joseph Parker, a University of Southern Mississippi political scientist.
In many ways, Blanco and Barbour are dealing with two very different disasters created by Katrina, which roared ashore Aug. 29.
In Mississippi, the storm obliterated whole coastal communities, smashed waterfront casinos and left tens of thousands homeless. Most victims, however, are still living near their former homes, though in tents or government trailers.
In Louisiana, Katrina devastated a major American city, trapped thousands in hellish conditions and forced a half-million people from their homes. Many of them are still scattered around the country, and New Orleans remains mostly shut down. Katrina killed at least 1,050 people in Louisiana and 228 in Mississippi.
A second hurricane, Rita, dealt Louisiana a follow-up blow on Sept. 24.
Barbour charged ahead after Katrina, calling Mississippi lawmakers into a nine-day special session starting Sept. 27 to take up recovery issues, including a bill, now signed into law, to let casinos move off the water and rebuild on dry land.
In what could be seen as slaps at Louisiana, Barbour likes to say that Mississippians are "not into victimhood," and he boasts that they are "hitching up their britches" and taking charge of their own recovery.
Mississippi state Rep. Bobby Moak, a Democrat, strongly opposes Barbour's positions on such issues as Medicaid (search) and education. But on Katrina, Moak said: "I have to say Haley has done a pretty good job of putting his arms around the issue."
Moak said Democrats would have a tough time against Barbour now, but noted that the election is two years away, and "six months is a lifetime in politics."
Many of the early assessments of Blanco's performance after Katrina were dismal. Blanco blamed the late appointment of her rebuilding commission on Hurricane Rita, and has dimissed much of the criticism as "a little bit of high politics."
Others say Blanco's response to Rita was much more assertive. She marshaled state assets, requested federal assistance and pushed for a big evacuation of southwestern Louisiana.
"At first her performance was a disaster, and she and her own people recognize it, but I've noticed the change," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "She's projecting a more decisive image. She's taking very responsible actions and stances."