TIM MUELLER/AP PHOTO
It’s rare these days for a politician to garner a 77 percent approval rating, but Louisiana’s new governor, 37-year-old Indian-American Bobby Jindal, has made a brief yet storied career of defying expectations. Jindal, or “Bobby” to his constituents, received this massive bipartisan support in an April Southern Media and Opinion Research poll as his first 100 days in office ended. In the run-up to his landslide victory last year, the media celebrated Jindal’s impressive and precocious record: a Rhodes Scholar at 22, Louisiana secretary of health and hospitals at 24, Republican nominee for governor at 32, Congressman at 33. When he became governor, they were effusive. It seemed glorious that a Southern state could elect this dark-skinned man, so much so that the news reverberated globally; people in the Jindal family village in India were ecstatic, even though Bobby barely knows them. Such widespread and early popularity–although it took a recent hit over anger at a proposed pay hike for state legislators–indicates that Jindal’s base is broad enough to encompass Louisiana’s many disparate factions, from racist David Duke backers to liberal Democrats, who seemingly look past Jindal’s deeply conservative politics.
Never heard of Bobby Jindal? Then pay attention. There’s a good chance he’ll be John McCain’s vice presidential pick. Commentators on the right, including Rush Limbaugh, began touting Jindal as vice presidential material just days after the governor’s inauguration. Limbaugh sees Jindal as the “next Ronald Reagan,” conservative enough to counter McCain’s purported liberalism and charismatic enough to win over Democrats. In a May 5 New York Times column, neocon William Kristol described four McCain staffers’ excitement about Jindal while extolling Jindal’s youth, his “real accomplishments” and his “strong reformist streak.” McCain met with Jindal, Florida Governor Charlie Crist and former rival Mitt Romney over the Memorial Day weekend in what was widely considered a first round of veep vetting.
As the chorus grows in support of placing Jindal on the GOP ticket, he has begun to venture out of Louisiana and onto the national stage. Barely 100 days into his term, he was a guest on The Tonight Show, where he joked that while he is flattered to be considered a potential veep nominee, “I’ve got the job I want.” Jindal also made an appearance before the National Press Club just days after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary remarks and immediately won over the crowd with a self-deprecating crack: “I don’t intend on being as entertaining or as newsworthy as Reverend Wright.”
Perhaps most appealing for Republicans is the widespread support Jindal won from lifelong Democrats before and after his election. (A common Democratic bumper sticker in Louisiana reads Proud to Be a Bobbycrat.) Even feminists and healthcare advocates have expressed admiration for him, although as health secretary under Republican Governor Mike Foster, Jindal presided over the shrinking of Medicaid coverage and the beginning of the privatization of Louisiana’s free hospitals. Nonetheless, his Democratic successor as health secretary, David Hood, has nothing but praise for Jindal, calling him “the best secretary of DHH that I have seen in thirty years in state government.” Hood says that Jindal was organized, able to generate excitement among staff and had long-term vision.