McCain's Surprise: Could GOP's Bayou Gov. Get Veepstakes Slot?

Diversity, conservative cred earn Louisiana governor a spot in GOP Veepstakes.

ByNitya Venkataraman

March 28, 2008 — -- Being called the next Ronald Reagan and the future of the Republican Party complete with murmurs of placement on G.O.P.'s vice presidential short list isn't bad conservative buzz to have if you're first-term Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

For Jindal, gubernatorial assension into the national spotlight came in October following a 53 percent victory in the Louisiana governor's race making the 36-year-old former two-term congressman the nation's first Indian-American governor.

Jindal has marked his first months in office fighting corruption and pushing ethics reform in his home state. Combined with his youth, diversity and conservative cred, ABC News consultant Matthew Dowd, said Jindal would bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the presidential bid of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Unlike other Republican names in the vice presidential pool, as an ethnic minority, Jindal provides a diversity that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty or South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford do not.

Dowd said Jindal could counter the historic elements on the Democratic side of the first African-American or first female presidential candidate to make the Republican ticket "more of what America looks like or more of what the diversity of America is."

"Conservatives really, really like him, which would give McCain a touchback to that base," said Dowd, a former strategist for the Bush White House. "He's the governor, he's young, he's the next generation of leader."

Republican strategist Scott Reed agreed, calling visions of Jindal in the No. 2 spot "an idea that should be dismissed on first blush."

"The beauty is," Reed explained, "is he's not just a good, strong conservative, but he's also incredibly competent and with a history in some domestic issues, like health care, which are going to be front and center next fall."

Jindal's leadership in a post-Katrina Louisiana also earned him high marks by Dowd. Jindal "comes in and is trying to clean up corruption, trying to fix one of those messes that has hit the history of this country," he said.

Still, Reed describes discussion of the GOP's second in command as premature. "McCain hasn't even finished the first chapter of defining himself," Reed said.

"It's way too early for McCain and company to be thinking they know what they need. They know they need someone who can step in if there's ever a tragedy, but the rest of the picture has not been painted yet," said Reed. "Jindal fits the bill for being a generational asset, a true conservative, and has good electoral experience."

In early February, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said Jindal on the ticket would make him "jump for joy".

Comparing the Louisiana governor to Ronald Reagan, Limbaugh said "He's the guy that beat the liberal Democrat machine throughout Louisiana. He did it on 100% conservatism.".

In a statement, Melissa Sellers, Jindal's press secretary, said the governor is "very flattered" by the 2008 ticket talk, "but obviously, he has a lot of work to do here in Louisiana and that is his only focus. Our state has a great chance to make big changes, and that is all he is thinking about."

The son of Indian immigrants, some believe Jindal, born and raised in Louisiana, gives face to a modern America. Named "Piyush" by Hindu parents, Jindal started going by "Bobby" at a young age and converted to Catholicism in his late teens. Educated at Brown and Oxford, Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar, chose a career in public service that has been marked by both state and federal government appointments.

Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party strategist whose career started in Louisiana politics, said, "Jindal on the ticket would provide McCain with inspiration, innovation and a touch of jazz. It's like seasoning in a Creole gumbo that blends the old and the new … nicely seasoned but not stale."

"I like Bobby," Brazile offered. Looking past the 2008 election cycle, she said, "Perhaps he should wait."

It might not serve the GOP.'s immediate interests, but waiting does make sense for Jindal's career, said Jeffrey Sadow, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. "Not only because he's just been elected and has a genuine interest in seeing certain changes made in the state and in policy but also in terms of looking ahead for any potential national political career after Louisiana," Sadow said.

And though it could boost Jindal's national presence, Sadow said being on a failed presidential ticket could also do permanent damage to the Louisiana governor's political aspirations come 2012 or 2016.

After a defeat, said Sadow, "it seems like the vice presidential running mate can't get a lot of traction."

For his part, the Republican presidential nominee has stayed away from speculation, providing no fuel to the presidential fire.

Speaking Tuesday with reporters in California, McCain said, "We're just starting that process of consideration of running mates. … We really have not gone very far in that process."

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