The first thing you notice about Bobby Jindal—everyone says this—is how damn young he looks. Stick him next to John McCain, however, and his appearance skews toward the pubescent. It's a sun-blasted, sweat-stained late-April day in New Orleans, and Jindal—102 days into his term as the governor of Louisiana, and just 36 years into a life that's looking increasingly politically charmed—is walking beside McCain down Caffin Avenue in the city's blighted Lower Ninth Ward. The neighborhood's few remaining residents—easily outnumbered by the hordes of National Guardsmen and political aides and the reporters sequestered in the flatbeds of two National Guard trucks—are out on their porches, with arms folded, observing this odd promenade. McCain's giant, gleaming bus ("the Straight," as his aides call it) looks like an alien spacecraft idling beside the scruffy Caffin Avenue median.
If that implies that McCain is an alien here, well, so be it. This is stop four on McCain's "forgotten places" tour, after Appalachia, Ohio's Rust Belt, and Alabama's Black Belt. These are not the typical bases that Republicans touch on the campaign diamond. It's as if McCain accidentally swapped date books with John Edwards, and it shows: The senator looks unsteady, almost sheepish, as he passes through the water-wrecked landscape, past weedy lots where shotgun houses stood before Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters crumbled them. McCain pauses in front of Fats Domino's renovated house, a one-story speck of hope amid the debris-strewn streets. The rumor on the press trucks is that Domino is home but refuses to come out. Whatever the situation, there's an awkward pause, and McCain, surrounded by his massive coterie, looks a little lost, a little overwhelmed, a little old.
Not Jindal. Jindal could get carded buying a six-pack. And Jindal, he doesn't know how to pause. Throughout the day he's been hanging behind McCain and maintaining a running—no, sprinting—dialogue with a Ninth Ward minister and other locals. When the tour ends at a Catholic church on St. Claude Avenue, Jindal continues to hang back as McCain addresses the traveling press corps and goes straight for the headline. "Never again," McCain says, then repeats the phrase for emphasis: "Never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way in which it was handled."
It's strong, stinging stuff McCain's hurling at his own party leader and president, and it's amplified by the evocative setting, yet the focus moves swiftly to Jindal. It's the day's third question, shouted from the back: Will Jindal be the senator's vice-presidential pick? "Governor Jindal is one of the great governors of the United States," McCain says. "I'm honored to have his friendship, and I will rely on Governor Jindal for many, many things in the future, when I am president."