Jindal Excites GOP
As a Possible Running Mate
Of Indian Descent
Has Youth and Zeal
By COREY DADE and ELIZABETH HOLMES
June 5, 2008
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Before Sen. John McCain could begin speaking at a town-hall meeting here Wednesday, he first had to quiet a crowd gone wild for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal -- a politician who not long ago would have been inconceivable in Louisiana.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, at a McCain campaign event Wednesday
Gov. Jindal, a child of Indian immigrants who has a gift for oratory, is the first minority to govern Louisiana since African-American P.B.S. Pinchback held the office for 35 days during Reconstruction.
The similarities between the 36-year-old Gov. Jindal and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are tantalizing to many in the Grand Old Party. After only 143 days as the nation's youngest sitting governor, Gov. Jindal's name is being bandied about as a potential running mate for likely Republican presidential nominee Sen. McCain.
"The governor has been able to reach across the aisle and get things done for the people of Louisiana, help the folks in New Orleans in the recovering from the storm," Sen. McCain said of Gov. Jindal, during a news conference.
"That would be something that I could show the American people as a way that people from both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, can sit down and work together."
Sen. McCain didn't talk about his process for selecting a running mate, and Gov. Jindal insists he's not campaigning for the slot. Sen. McCain has met repeatedly in recent weeks with Gov. Jindal, as well as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The McCain campaign has said nearly two dozen people are being considered.
Whatever happens, Gov. Jindal, an Ivy League intellectual with a reformist's zeal, has come to represent for some party leaders the youthful streak and problem-solving approach to government they believe are critical to reinvigorating a Republican Party adrift under a deeply unpopular president.
"Bobby Jindal...is somebody who could be touted as part of the next generation of national Republican leaders. And they should be touting him," said one of the governor's mentors, U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, of northern Louisiana.
Sen. McCain has visited Louisiana four times in the past several months, a tacit admission that the Bush administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina remains a memory he must address for many Americans.
That's especially true at a time when Republican wedge issues such as opposition to gay marriage and illegal immigration appear increasingly less effective, even in places like Louisiana.
Gov. Jindal has succeeded in the state at gaining the backing of social conservatives and pro-business fiscal hawks, while appealing to moderate suburbanites -- the formula many Republicans believe Sen. McCain must achieve to win the presidency.
Gov. Jindal has done it partly by making clear he personally embraces social conservative orthodoxies such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage -- but soft-pedaling them in public. While running for governor in 2007 (he narrowly lost an earlier bid for the office in 2003), he rarely raised such hot-button issues on the stump. Instead, he campaigned largely on free-market themes such as cutting taxes to stimulate growth, and a populist pledge, honed from his days as a state and federal technocrat, to solve problems. Gov. Jindal, a double major in public policy and biology at Brown University, who passed up acceptances at both law school and medical school to be a Rhodes Scholar, won the election running away.
But that strategy may be hard to pull off in the glare of a national candidacy when his views on issues such as abortion and religion in schools would certainly be meticulously examined. The Louisiana governor, who converted to Catholicism from Hinduism in college, is against abortion in nearly all circumstances and supports teaching "intelligent design" in public schools. As a congressman, he voted to build a fence at the Mexico border.
"If you look at him in a glimmer, he looks like a golden guy, the next face of the Republican Party," said Julie Vezinot, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Democratic Party. "But more will come out about him and that he voted in lockstep with the Bush administration."
In office, Gov. Jindal has pushed a nuts-and-bolts agenda. On his second day as governor, he began revamping regulations that had severely hampered the state's recovery from Katrina. Then he pushed through one of the strictest ethics laws in the nation. Since then he has won approval for five tax breaks for businesses and upper-income taxpayers, and spent more than $800 million on crumbling levees and infrastructure. His latest initiative to improve work-force training takes a page from the playbook of a big-city Democrat and gives it a free-market twist: realigning vocational-school curriculums to meet the needs of big employers.
Gov. Jindal's signature program is a revamped approach to rebuilding the wrecked Louisiana coastal parishes. When he took office, the state had spent less than half of $26 billion in federal funds for hurricane rebuilding. Another $15 billion for housing, businesses, schools and local governments sat unused. He consolidated programs under a single agency, which imposed stricter performance penalties on contractors and streamlined processes. The state's biggest program, which will award roughly $10 billion in rebuilding grants to homeowners, is on pace to give all homeowners their grants by August.
Gov. Jindal dismisses the idea that he is a "Republican Obama," but close advisers and other party officials embrace the idea. As for his party's troubles, Gov. Jindal said Republicans have "lost their way."
"The party lost its discipline when it came to spending," he said in an interview. "It began to defend practices we used to say were wrong when other people did them, like corruption and earmarks."
On the circuit, Gov. Jindal can attract the kind of youthful, star-struck adoration typical of fans of Sen. Obama. Mary Beth Crifasi, an 18-year-old from New Orleans who plans to major in political science at the University of Mississippi this fall, came to an appearance of Gov. Jindal and Sen. McCain in New Orleans on Tuesday night. Wearing a Bobby Jindal T-shirt with pearls and a cardigan, she stood on a chair so her father could take a picture with the governor in the background.
"He's so personal and just very healing, very down to earth," she said. "He's a great guy."http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB121263051303347203.html?mod=special_page_campaign2008_leftbox