Jindal May Be the Answer to Romney's VP Question

By Scott Conroy - May 11, 2012

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Jindal cited with palpable enthusiasm a slew of statistics about budget cuts, state payrolls, and the reversal in a decades-long brain drain from Louisiana, all under his administration. He also was eager to expand the parameters of his agenda in a manner that evoked a Romney stump speech.

“There’s one view that our primary focus should be all about redistributing wealth and that the reason people are suffering is because other people are doing well, and we need to manage the slow decline of this great country and become more like Europe,” Jindal said. “There’s a second view which says . . . your last name, your Zip code, your race, your gender, your income, should not determine your outcome as an adult in America -- that if you’re willing to work hard and get a great education, you should be able to pursue the American dream.”

Added Political Value

Though he is only 40, Jindal is already one of the more experienced Republican governors in the country, having been in office for 4 ½ years after serving three years as Louisiana’s 1st District representative in the U.S. House.

While several of Romney’s potential running mates are known primarily for their work in Washington, the presumptive nominee’s core message in each of his two presidential runs suggests that he will be inclined to reinforce his own credentials by picking an outsider with a managerial background as his running mate.

Able to point to a long list of accomplishments in a state with a constitutionally strong governorship, Jindal is among those who most clearly fit the bill.

“A lot of the thrust of the Romney campaign is going to be that on the other side you have flash and dash and big speeches, but we need someone who can run a country,” said one Republican consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not just, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It’s going to be, ‘And do you think these guys can make it better over the next four years?’ And in order to double down and make sure that answer is ‘no,’ I think there’s a pretty good chance he would pick someone with executive experience.”

Jindal may not provide Romney with an edge in a key swing state or a clear boost in a critical demographic, but his Southern twang and firm entrenchment within the culturally conservative base of the Republican Party could boost the ticket among many conservatives who are enthusiastic about beating President Obama but have been lukewarm about their own candidate.

Though Romney’s need to firm up his right flank is not considered his most pressing concern among advisers in Boston, gun-owners -- a critical group in key swing states, many of whom are Reagan Democrats and present a particularly appealing pickup opportunity for Romney -- are a potentially decisive voting bloc that Jindal could help activate.

The gun lobby paid close attention to Romney’s speech at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in St. Louis last month after years of a rocky relationship with the former Massachusetts governor. (In his failed 1994 Senate run, Romney boasted that he didn’t “line up with the NRA,” and famously -- and unpersuasively -- said during his first presidential run that his hunting experience amounted to shooting “small varmints.”)

Jindal, on the other hand, has been a hero to the gun lobby since 2006, when he sponsored the so-called “Katrina Bill” that barred law enforcement officials from confiscating privately owned guns during federal emergencies and has continued to win accolades from gun-owners as governor.

“I can’t think of a governor who’s done more to stand up and protect the Second Amendment than Bobby Jindal,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, told RCP. “I don’t pretend to know who Gov. Romney will pick as his running mate, but when it comes to the Second Amendment, Bobby Jindal’s a great champion.”

Saying the Right Things

With unimpeachably conservative credentials on social issues like abortion, in addition to his well-known bona fides on taxes and fiscal policy, Jindal remains a hot commodity on the national Republican fundraising circuit.

His most recent travels have taken him to political events in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, and Utah. This week alone, he headlined an Alabama Republican Party function on Thursday and is slated to address the Oklahoma Republican convention on Friday.

Louisiana Democrats, an increasingly endangered species in the state after having dominated its politics for generations, have taken note and argue that Jindal mistook his electoral triumph against token Democratic opposition last year for a sweeping mandate that does not really exist.

“His national ambitions clearly drive the agenda here, and people recognize the price that the state as a whole is paying for it, and I think there’s growing dissatisfaction bordering on resentment,” said Louisiana Democratic Party communications director Mike Stagg. “This is the longest he’s stayed in any job he’s had in his adult life. Had it not been for the BP disaster in 2010, he’d already be bored with being governor.”

Louisiana’s legislature is currently in session, and Jindal is quick to mention that he is spending most of his time in-state.

During the early Republican primary fight, he was a prominent backer of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and did not formally endorse Romney until last month -- after his virtual clinching of the nomination had been firmly established. But that recent history is unlikely to affect his standing as a potential VP pick.

Jindal’s advisers say that he truly has been keeping his proverbial head down and focusing on the work in front of him, and members of his inner circle pride themselves on avoiding the constant soft-selling to key Romney officials and the national media that the teams of other vice-presidential prospects sometimes engage in more conspicuously.

Asked “the question” about whether he’d accept the No. 2 slot if it were offered, Jindal’s response is notable only for its avoidance of a direct answer.

“I’ve got the job that I want,” he told RCP. “I think it’s presumptuous to speculate on all of this. The reality is he will select whoever he thinks will do the best job if called upon to step into the job as president.”

It is, of course, the standard answer among potential running mates -- who would almost certainly accept the position but are careful not to come across as overeager.

Still, Jindal has a way of conveying convincingly that he really would rather talk about current policy debates and his accomplishments in Louisiana than speculate about a topic that only a tiny group of people has any real insight into.

“He’s not trying to get the job,” one close observer of Louisiana politics said. “The people who are highest on the VP list publicly tend to be people who are trying to get the job.”

It’s precisely the mind-set that could endear him to Romney. 

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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