Shortly after Bobby Jindal seemingly took himself off John McCain's short list of vice presidential picks, pundits began throwing around the Louisiana governor's name in connection with another high profile position: the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.
The Politico is floating. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Roger Villere, Louisiana Republican Party Chairman, says there is a "good possibility" that Jindal will deliver the keynote. And CNN uses unnamed GOP sources to suggest .
The possibility of a keynote address raises the inevitable question: Is the GOP grooming Jindal to be the anti-Obama?
The parallels between Jindal and the Democrats' faux-messiah are too striking to ignore. When Obama gave his "rock star" performance at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he was a 42-year-old, African-American state senator from Illinois with no experience on the national stage. If Jindal delivers the keynote at the RNC, he will be a 37-year-old, Indian-American governor from Louisiana with only eight months experience in office.
Both were elected by comfortable margins to the offices they currently hold -- Jindal by 54 percent in a four-way race, Obama by 70 percent in a two-way race. Both appeal to the bases of their respective political parties. Although their religious views differ substantially, both claim to have had Christian conversion experiences.
Equally important, they're both young and charismatic. On the GOP side, those are two needed ingredients for future presidential contenders. McCain is betting on his decades of experience to generate support, but the tide of voters who want something -- anything -- different from the status quo is not on his side. The result: he's neck-in-neck with Obama, a political novice whose sole claim to fame is an attractive smile and some good speeches.
That's why Jindal could be such a formidable opponent in future elections. He has Obama's charismatic qualities, but he has the chance to gain years of needed experience as governor of Louisiana before launching onto the national stage. At this point, it's smart politics to turn down a vice presidential nod. That can wait. But Republican leaders are doubtless hoping that a keynote address at a national convention would give the kid from Louisiana the same kind of exposure it gave the kid from Illinois four years ago.
THE GOOD NEWS about Jindal is that conservatives don't have to forfeit their principles to vote for him. He's like Obama in style and appeal, but that's where the comparisons end. Ideologically, he's the polar opposite of lockstep liberalism and a far greater contrast to Obama than McCain could ever be.
Even on issues that cost him support in the Republican ranks -- such as his opposition to federal funding for embryonic stem cell research -- Jindal comes down on the right side. He supports offshore drilling, giving families more educational options (which has drawn the condemnation of teachers' unions), the right to pack heat under the Second Amendment, and a federal marriage amendment. Obama takes the liberal side on each of these issues.
Jindal's record hasn't gone through the scrutiny that accompanies presidential contenders, but he appears more aligned with conservatism than most, if not all, GOP candidates in recent history, and certainly more so than McCain. More importantly, he shows that the GOP has young blood in its veins and that Democrats don't have a monopoly on youth.
Maybe that's why party leaders are giving signals that Jindal is their rising star. Whether McCain wins or loses in November, Jindal will be a contender to assume the mantle of young conservative leadership and have a legitimate shot at the GOP nomination in 2012 or 2016. And unlike Obama, by that time Jindal will have years of executive experience under his belt.
A speech at the RNC in early September could be the first step.
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