Three years ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal got his first big chance in the national spotlight and bombed. His response to President Obama’s first State of the Union address was uniformly panned. “Not ready for prime time” was a common critique.
But Jindal (R), who is often mentioned as a vice-presidential contender on Mitt Romney’s shortlist, is proof that there are second acts in American politics.
On Monday, Jindal, who backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the primary contest, joined Romney for a high-dollar fundraising luncheon with supporters in Baton Rouge, fueling more debate about his chances of becoming the running mate.
Romney announced in a note to supporters last week that he will name his pick before the Republican National Convention in August, dubbing the ticket “America’s Comeback Team.”
Asked recently about his vice-presidential prospects, Jindal offered the classic non-response.
“We’re not going to speculate. I’ve said this for the last several weeks. We’re not speculating. We’re not commenting on that,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring questions to the Romney campaign. “No disrespect to Joe Biden, nobody’s going to the voting booth and voting based on who’s vice president.”
Yet social conservatives are looking closely at Romney’s choice for signs that he wants to assuage their concerns about issues that are important to them, such as their opposition to abortion and gay rights. Jindal would fit that bill.
A darling of social conservatives, he has reworked his image by tackling major problems, including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, and by being one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s policies on health-care reform and the economy. And he has emerged as one of Romney’s most visible and aggressive surrogates, going head to head with Democrats on Sunday roundtable talks and traveling the country to rebut Obama on his tour of Midwestern states.
Elected in October to his second term with 66 percent of the vote, he has steadily polled in the mid-50s. Asked recently about being on the ticket, he gave the classic non-answer to a question about whether he would serve if asked.
In the primaries, Romney struggled among evangelicals, routinely losing that key voting bloc to former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), who frequently campaigned from the pulpit of churches and whose insurgent run was powered by a string of wins in the South.
Since the primaries, Romney has made overtures to social conservatives, including a speech at Liberty University in May, and his team seemed to cave to evangelicals who balked at his choice of an openly gay national security campaign adviser — Richard A. Grenell, who resigned after being sidelined by the campaign.
With his teenage conversion from Hinduism to Catholicism and ironclad antiabortion views, Jindal would excite the social-conservative base, which is not sold on Romney.
“Jindal would be very, very well received among evangelicals. I hear nothing but rave reviews from evangelicals in Louisiana about how he has given them access and developed a relationship that is better than any other governor that they have ever had. What most evangelicals have been saying to the campaign is that it has to be somebody pro-life,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. “And he also counterbalances the elitist claim [because] he is an up-from-the-ranks guy, and it helps to have someone on the ticket who is from Main Street, not Wall Street.”