Talk of making him the game changer on the GOP ticket emerged in that contest four years ago, but reasons he would not have made the cut (assuming, leaving aside his declaration to then-candidate Sen.John McCain that he was a non-candidate, he would not have been selected) were he would have left the state open then to a Democrat successor (current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu) and he didn’t come from a state that would give him a competitive advantage. He also didn’t have a lot of experience in elective office – then three years in the U.S. House of Representatives and just starting as governor.
Turns out that those two things didn’t much matter, as the eventual pick former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got the nod, who had only a little more experience as a governor and also hailed from a noncompetitive state. However, like Jindal, she had acted in office as a conservative and with her female sex, as would have Jindal’s south Asian Indian background, was figured to offset Obama’s “Magic Negro” status in the minds of less sophisticated voters.
In the current cycle, once again Jindal’s name has popped up, and he’s a stronger candidate than ever, for three reasons. First, it has become increasingly apparent that presidential candidates have deemphasized the idea of the “swing state” factor in their selections, so because Louisiana will vote solidly for the Republican ticket hardly devalues Jindal’s presence on it. Second, he now has four more years of gubernatorial experience, making his total elective office experience greater than that of 2004 Democrat nominee John Edwards.
The third factor magnifies the second – the experience he has gained has confirmed his conservative credentials and reflects at the minimum adequately on his governance ability. While some may argue the overarching test of this competence, handling the declining revenue picture of the state, will dull his stature, much more likely is it will become enhanced. There has been a precipitous decline in general fund revenues coming with which to budget starting after his first (and some deterioration as well in money flowing to dedicated purposes), yet collar typical Louisiana citizens with the question of whether they think there’s been any significant decline in state services, and few would answer affirmatively (and almost none outside of the government and nonprofit sectors).
This is a tribute to Jindal’s ability not just to lop off selectively and incrementally low priority government tasks that had little real need attached to them, but also to make what has been retained more efficient (the current budget deficit up for discussion would have reached in proportional terms the unenviable status of California’s without, for example, a major restructuring in the way in which Medicaid services get delivered during Jindal’s terms). Add to this that perhaps only in the previous budget cycle has he had a Legislature that was any more than lukewarm to his agenda, becoming more compliant as a result of steady Republican gains (if not perhaps too enthusiastic for his liking in the present one), and some high profile policy successes (such as education reform), and it’s clear he would be among, although perhaps not at the top of, the highest echelon of GOP governors of the past few years.
So he should be near the top of the running mate list. But not at the top, because of the dynamics reversed from four years ago. Then, McCain could not be considered other than a very experienced national politician, which is why he felt someone from the state level with executive experience could help his chances. This time, Romney’s only political experience has been as a state chief executive, and only for four years. To enhance this ticket, he’s going to want a conservative with a good policy record and a lot of experience, preferably most if not all at the national level. And for Romney to go with somebody with absolutely no national experience would be extremely unusual – the last major party ticket to have a nominee without national elective experience that did not select somebody with it was Alf Landon in 1936, and that didn’t turn out well.
It’s here where Jindal misses out. His three years, while better than some, sets him back in this derby. Other such as Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Paul Ryan pass him here, and, because of his geographic situation (where the swing state hypothesis might actually mean something, which also may be the case with Portman) and Hispanic ethnic background (the second-largest demographic group in the country and fastest-growing segment of the electorate), the almost two years of national office but also many in state government including a stint as Speaker of the House also puts Sen. Marco Rubio up there ahead of him.
But make no mistake, for what Romney needs, Jindal is a strong candidate. There are choices that fit better, but with the right set of short-term political circumstances and reluctance on the part of any of the above to assent, Jindal is a choice that should not be easily dismissed.