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Jindal May Be the Answer to Romney's VP Question

Jindal May Be the Answer to Romney's VP Question

By Scott Conroy - May 11, 2012


People have always told Bobby Jindal to slow down.

The Louisiana governor has a tendency to speak faster than his audience is able to think, so when it came time to deliver the Republican response to President Obama's first address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, the most important speech of Jindal's political life, he made sure to take it slow.

What resulted was an oratorical disaster.

On live national television, Jindal spoke in a jarring, singsong pitch that replaced his natural rapid-fire monotone. Even longtime friends found it difficult to concentrate on what he was saying, and the reviews were almost uniformly withering.

The man who had been regarded as the future of the Republican Party was suddenly the butt of a national joke.

“The delivery was absolutely awful,” Jindal recalled of the notorious speech in a phone interview with RCP from his Baton Rouge office on Wednesday. “But if you look beyond the delivery and actually look at the substance, the whole point of my speech at that point in time was to say that the president is proposing a nearly $800 billion stimulus plan. Our country can’t afford this level of spending and borrowing.”

And with that, Jindal launched into a blizzard of statistics on the growth of the GDP, a list of negative outcomes of health care reform and, for good measure, a quotation from Napoleon Bonaparte about leadership before finally coming up for air several minutes later.

Members of the Louisiana press corps have learned over the years to ask the governor multiple questions at once, as the only way to avoid spending the better part of a press conference listening to his take on every nuance of a single topic.

Even the briefest conversation with Jindal leaves no doubt that he is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about policy, but less immediately clear is whether he has the right stuff to take the next step in a national political environment in which attention spans are short.

After being widely written off as a potential national figure following that 2009 debacle, Jindal did not attempt to reinvent himself. Instead, he reverted to the policy-obsessed wonkiness and disarmingly polite appeal that come naturally to him.

Surprising the skeptics, Jindal has enjoyed a quiet re-emergence as a popular second-term governor, a highly coveted surrogate for out-of-state Republicans, and a likely name on Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential short list.

Thus far, he has not been among the trendiest picks to become Romney’s running mate, as was the case four years ago -- before John McCain chose a different young conservative with a reputation as an ethics crusader.

But interviews with several Republican leaders and private conversations with people close to both Romney and Jindal suggest plenty of reasons to believe things might play out differently this time. Though the nation’s first Indian-American governor may be flying a bit under the radar in the VP speculation game, his chance of being selected may be as good as any of the more buzzed-about prospects.

“He’s certainly on the short list as far as qualified people that could be a complement to Governor Romney,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who endorsed the now-presumptive nominee in early February and speaks weekly with his advisers. “Governor Romney’s hallmark is his ability to turn things around, whether the Olympics here in Utah, or turning around Massachusetts when he was governor, or turning around businesses from failure to success -- that’s certainly going to be a big part of his platform, and Bobby’s done that as governor of Louisiana.”

Though the years since that 2009 speech have been undeniably fruitful for Jindal on the legislative front, it was his leadership during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that helped solidify his reputation in Louisiana and rejuvenated his standing among national Republicans as a party heavyweight.

“Competent” is perhaps the word admirers use most frequently to describe Jindal after “brilliant,” and his ability to get things done was a trait he demonstrated throughout the crisis in the Gulf region. For weeks, Jindal was a near-constant figure at the frontlines of the spill, and he hit the right political notes with Republicans by frequently butting heads with the Obama administration, demanding that federal officials be more proactive in their response and taking matters into his own hands when he deemed doing so appropriate.

“The difference between him after the BP oil spill and his Democratic predecessor [Gov. Kathleen Blanco] after Katrina could hardly have been more stark,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour -- whose neighboring state suffered a lesser impact from the most recent environmental disaster in the Gulf -- told RCP. “He was decisive, he was knowledgeable, and he was working hard for his people. There was never any question -- there was no uncertainty.”

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

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