What Bobby Jindal Would Bring to the Republican VP Slot

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The Louisiana governor would be a surprise pick, but he might be just the right gamble for the risk-averse Romney campaign.

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Bobby Jindal (left) and Mitt Romney shake hands at a campaign event in Colorado on August 2, as Rick Perry looks on. (Associated Press)

It isn't exactly Nixon recovering from his 1962 rout, but Bobby Jindal has quietly pulled off an impressive comeback since February 2009. That's when the Louisiana governor was tapped to give the Republican rebuttal to President Obama's first State of the Union. The disastrous speech -- which earned Jindal widespread comparison to the buffoonish, naive, awkward 30 Rock character Kenneth the Page -- turned a rising star into a shooting one. A man once thought to be a strong contender for the 2012 GOP nomination had flamed out.

Don't look now, but Jindal is widely rumored to be back on the rise and on Mitt Romney's short list of potential running mates, just as he was in the mix to be John McCain's vice-presidential nominee four years ago. Unless Romney is pulling a head fake, he's probably on the back end of that list -- unlike Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio, Jindal hasn't been a frequent presence on the stump alongside the candidate. His quick and full-throated endorsement last September of doomed Romney rival Rick Perry doesn't help his case either.

Still, there are good reasons for Romney to consider him. For one thing, Jindal fits the general mold of a running mate that Romney seeks: a technocratic thinker with gubernatorial experience. And like Romney, he spent time as a management consultant. Jindal probably wouldn't win Romney any major new constituencies -- Louisiana is already a slam-dunk red state -- but he'd help shore Romney up in the South, scene of Romney's awkward grits-eating comments during the primary. Jindal is also a devout conservative Catholic, which could help reassure religious voters uncomfortable with Romney's Mormonism (although a 1994 essay describing a friend's exorcism might raise eyebrows). He spent two terms in the House and two years at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bush Administration, which gives him a working knowledge of Washington and a connection to the legislature -- neither of which Romney has. And picking Jindal would add a bit of diversity to the Republican ticket, at a time when the party dominates the white vote but lags in every minority group. Nominating the first Indian-American to a presidential ticket in history would be worth days of positive buzz for Romney.

Ironically, given his bad rebuttal experience, what might make Jindal a good addition to the Romney ticket is his willingness to be an attack dog. In the last three years, he has been a happy warrior, fighting against the White House over the health-care reform law and pushing back fiercely on the drilling moratorium the administration instituted in the wake of the BP oil spill, with Jindal saying the ban was costing his state precious jobs. Romney has shown that he's willing to attack when it's necessary, but neither he nor Pawlenty nor Portman seem to go about with the same sort of gusto that Jindal does. On the other hand, which Jindal would show up to debate against Joe Biden? The danger is that he might reprise his State of the Union performance, with neither the dignity and poise of a Rubio nor the combativeness of a Chris Christie.

Most signs still point to Romney going with one of the "incredibly boring white guys." But a Jindal selection would give him the opportunity to shake up the race with a somewhat unexpected pick, while still avoiding the risk of a Palin-style pick -- a surprise candidate not completely prepared for the spotlight. For the risk-averse Romney, that might be a gamble he's willing to take.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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