Kathleen Parker: McCain’s most likely wingmen
By Kathleen Parker
Drum roll. Suspense. Who will it be? In this corner, we have Stormin’ Mormon Mitt Romney. In the other, we have Brain-Buster Bobby Jindal.
Amid speculation that John McCain will announce his vice presidential pick soon, political nail-biters have begun placing bets. Favorites include Louisiana Gov. Jindal, with whom McCain is meeting today, and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, whose resume is familiar.
Can McCain’s former foe become his new best friend?
Romney would bring more than squeaky clean qualifications and youthful good looks to the ticket. New polling in Michigan by Ayres, McHenry & Associates shows that Romney gives McCain a significant jump ó “off the charts,” as someone familiar with the still-unreleased poll described it ó and makes him competitive in a state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1988. Mike Huckabee had little effect on the survey results and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s name was of negligible value.
Given the importance of even that single state, where 17 electoral votes are at stake, Romney would seem a logical choice. Then again, as conservatives frequently note, logic doesn’t always work with McCain, who seems to enjoy doing the opposite of what he senses people want him to do.
Although Jindal is less well-known, he’s got rising star power. Importantly, he’s young ó and looks even younger. If he had cheeks, you’d want to pinch them.
Reed-thin, Jindal has the metabolism of a hummingbird and the kind of intellect that makes Vulcans uneasy. Often referred to as the smartest man in the room, Jindal’s mind can wrap around anything but the idea of repose. More to an important point, he’s not another white guy. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal is both the Republican Barack Obama and the anti-Obama. To a vote, he’s a fiscal and social, pro-life conservative who came to the governorship on a promise of reform in the wake of Katrina.
While then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco told President Bush she’d get back to him about what she needed after the hurricane, Jindal orchestrated a national emergency system of volunteers, faith-based agencies, retail providers and truckers to donate and deliver supplies to the drenched and homeless. Affectionately told stories of his gritty performance are the stuff of future legend.
That can-do spirit is a thread that runs through Jindal’s life. Before becoming governor, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before that, he was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, taking the state’s bankrupt Medicaid program from a $400 million deficit to a $220 million surplus. He also served as president of the University of Louisiana System.
Oh, and he delivered his third child when his wife awoke in the middle of the night in labor. Yeah, but can he juggle machetes?
In one of his toughest challenges as governor, Jindal vetoed a bill that would have doubled state legislators’ pay. Jindal had long opposed the raise, but also had promised to let the Legislature handle its own business. Caught between two vows, Jindal erred on the side of ethics, admitting that he had made a mistake in promising too much.
“As with all mistakes, you can either correct them or compound them ó I am choosing to correct my mistake now,” Jindal said.
Too good to be true? Perhaps. If Jindal gets close to the White House, Americans will hear about his conversion to Catholicism. He was smitten in high school by a young lady who stole his heart and led him to the cross.
In college, he witnessed and wrote about an exorcism. Though such talents might be needed in the nation’s capital, Hindu converts to Catholicism who admit to belief in demons have some ‘splainin’ to do.
It seems clear that Romney would agree to serve as McCain’s wingman. He has stumped for McCain for several months after graciously dropping his own candidacy for president.
Jindal has a tougher call. He’s been governor only for six months and has the unique opportunity to create a new state, literally, from the ground up. Politically, the fallout would be significant, as Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat and brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, would take Jindal’s place.
Staying put might allow him time to further burnish his executive credentials while honoring his contract with Louisiana voters. Jindal’s resume would suggest that he’s always been a man in a hurry, but there’s no rush for the nation’s junior governor.
When you’re Bobby Jindal, the night really is young.
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Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.