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Jindal's Story Intrigues, But Can It Get Him A VP Nod?

Jul 20, 2012
Originally published on July 20, 2012 2:42 pm

Mention Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and a lot of people still remember his 2009 Republican response to President Obama's first address to Congress. In a voice often compared to Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock, Jindal addressed viewers across the nation as if they were primary school students.

"My own parents came to this country from a distant land," Jindal said as he recounted his parents' immigration from India before he was born. "When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 1/2 months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a pre-existing condition."

Jindal was criticized for talking about himself too much in that speech. Even conservatives called it stiff and uninspired. But now, as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, his message is polished and pointed.

"President Obama — the most liberal, incompetent president since Jimmy Carter — never ran anything, including a lemonade stand, before we elected him president of the United States," Jindal told a cheering crowd in Pittsburgh on July 6. "Let's add him to the 23 million unemployed Americans."

During the GOP primary, Jindal supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but now he's clearly on Romney's team — and one of the leading candidates for the GOP's No. 2 slot.

Jindal was in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday for a Republican National Committee rally opposing President Obama's health care overhaul. The Statehouse News Bureau of Ohio Public Radio asked Jindal if he wants to be Romney's vice president.

"We're referring all VP questions to the campaign," said Jindal. And then, without missing a beat, he turned the conversation back to Romney and why he'd be a better president than Obama.

Growing Up In America

Jindal was born with the first name Piyush, but he changed it after watching The Brady Bunch as a boy. From relatively humble beginnings, he developed an impressive resume. After college, he studied as a Rhodes scholar and had a stint with the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Then, Jindal was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He was only 24.

At 33, he was elected to Congress, and three years later, governor.

In 2008, Jindal was widely praised for leading a huge evacuation before Hurricane Gustav. That was three years after the failed response to Katrina, when the state was governed by a Democrat. He also earned high marks for his response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Jindal is also very good at raising campaign money. Through his career he has brought in more than $35 million, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics.

"Where he does his very best is in a very small room filled with very rich people," says John Maginnis, with the political newsletter LaPolitics Weekly in Baton Rouge. "He's great — he'll lighten their wallets every time."

Maginnis says Jindal would be a safe pick for Romney ideologically. Even though 20 percent of Louisiana residents don't have health insurance, Jindal is a frequent critic of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. And even after four years as governor during tough economic times, Jindal has maintained his reputation as a fiscal conservative, says Maginnis.

"Most importantly for the Republicans, he has not raised taxes," says Maginnis. "He's even, in one case, vetoed the renewal of a 4-cent cigarette tax, which there was absolutely no opposition to."

That sort of hard-line approach appeals to an important Republican voting bloc: conservative, evangelical Christians. Jindal converted from Hinduism to Catholicism in his teens. Given his firm opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, he's on good footing with evangelical voters.

And as an Indian-American, he would add diversity to the Romney ticket.

Many Republicans "want to be seen as an inclusive party," says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

But Jindal is young, only 41. "And he has the benefit of looking like he's about 20," says Cromartie, "That may not help him politically."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

With all the speculation about who Mitt Romney will pick as a running mate, we're taking a close look at some contenders. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is an Indian-American with a compelling life story. He could help energize the GOP ticket. But there are questions whether he would be a safe pick. NPR's Jeff Brady has this profile.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Mention Bobby Jindal and a lot of people still remember his 2009 Republican response to President Obama's first address before Congress.

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: My own parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already four-and-a-half months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a pre-existing condition.

BRADY: Even conservatives called the speech stiff and uninspired. But now as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, his message is polished and pointed.

JINDAL: President Obama - the most liberal, incompetent president since Jimmy Carter - never ran anything, including a lemonade stand, before we elected him president of the United States. Let's add him to the 23 million unemployed Americans. Let's elect Mitt Romney president.

BRADY: That was Jindal in Pittsburgh a few weeks back. In the GOP primary, he supported Texas Governor Rick Perry, but now he's clearly on Mitt Romney's team. On Wednesday, Jindal was in Columbus, where the Statehouse News Bureau of Ohio Public Radio asked if he wants to be Romney's vice president.

JINDAL: We're referring all VP questions to the campaign. But this election's not about Joe Biden. It's about Governor Romney versus President Obama. Two very different records, two very different resumes. Two very different visions for America.

BRADY: While Jindal is quick to change the topic, his name is frequently mentioned. He has an impressive resume. After college, a Rhodes scholarship, and a stint with a management consulting firm, Jindal was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He was only 24 years old.

At 33 he was elected to Congress and three years later governor. Jindal was widely praised for leading a huge pre-hurricane evacuation three years after the failed response to Katrina. He also earned high marks for his response to BP's oil spill in 2010. And Jindal is very good at raising campaign money. John Maginnis writes the political newsletter LaPolitics Weekly in Baton Rouge.

JOHN MAGINNIS: Where he does his very best is in very small rooms filled with very rich people. He's great. You know, he'll lighten their wallets every time.

BRADY: Maginnis says Jindal would be a safe pick for Mitt Romney ideologically. Even though one-fifth of Louisiana residents don't have health insurance, Jindal is an unsparing critic of President Obama's health care overhaul. He opposed the law's expansion of Medicaid. And, Maginnis says, in his second term as governor, Jindal has maintained his reputation as a fiscal conservative.

MAGINNIS: Most importantly for the Republicans, he has not raised taxes and he's even, in one case, vetoed the renewal of a four-cent cigarette tax, which there was absolutely no opposition to.

BRADY: That hardline approach appeals to an important voting bloc in the Republican Party - conservative evangelical Christians. Jindal converted from Hinduism to Catholicism in his teens. Given his firm opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, he's on good footing with evangelicals. As an Indian-American, he would add some sizzle to the Romney ticket, says Michael Cromartie with the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE: I think there are many people in the Republican Party who want to be seen as an inclusive party. And so it would add in the dynamic running against President Obama to have somebody of a different ethnicity.

BRADY: But Cromartie says there could be one problem. Jindal is only 41 years old.

CROMARTIE: And he has the benefit of looking like he's about 20. But that may not help him politically.

BRADY: Cromartie says he thinks Jindal is ready. But he suspects some voters would rather see a few more grey hairs before Bobby Jindal advances to a national office like vice president.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.