Afterward Jindal boards a helicopter to fly to Monroe, in Louisiana's northeast corner. The morning outing with McCain was a glitzy aberration; this trip, to announce $22 million in funding for a youth correctional facility, an aquifer reclamation project, and local highway improvements, is the real work governors do, the grimy nuts and bolts of the job. In a cramped room in the Swanson Center for Youth, standing before a white lattice festooned with plastic ivy and a laminated sign reading WELCOME GOVERNOR JINDAL, he outlines his spending proposals before a crowd of sheriffs' deputies, small-town mayors, and youth-facility staffers. It's meaty, complex, intensely local politics, and many of the people it will affect are gathered in the room. But when Jindal opens the floor to questions, there is just one:
Thank you, Governor, yes, can you tell us if you will be John McCain's running mate in November?
Louisiana is accustomed to exporting itself to the rest of America: its cuisine, its music, its old-timey cocktails, its Mardi Gras snapshots. But not its politicians. The last time America showed an appetite for a Louisiana politico was in 1848, when General Zachary Taylor won the White House. The legendary governor Huey Long wrote a fictionalized memoir optimistically titled My First Days in the White House but was assassinated in 1935 before it was published. For decades Louisiana has played court jester to the national political scene, sending forth a series of tragicomic flameouts: Witness current Republican U.S. senator David Vitter and his predilection for D.C. escorts, and current Democratic U.S. congressman William Jefferson, who was busted with $90,000 in cash bribes stuffed in his freezer. In the nineties, when a gubernatorial runoff pitted Ku Klux Klansman David Duke against the perennially indicted Edwin Edwards, the ubiquitous bumper stickers read VOTE FOR THE CROOK. And they meant it. "We like our politicians like many of our cultural dishes," says Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist and native New Orleanian. "Spicy."
If Bobby Jindal, now 37, who pinballed from a gubernatorial-cabinet position at the age of 24 to two terms in Congress and then to the governorship, can't be called your typical Louisiana politician, it's because he's not your typical Louisianan. He doesn't care much, for instance, about food. His musical tastes run toward middle-of-the-road FM rock—Clapton, the Beatles—though, really, whatever's on the radio will do. He doesn't drink alcohol—an anomaly in a state where, as the old joke goes, cirrhosis of the liver gets listed on death certificates as "natural causes"—or even coffee, Louisiana's second official liquid. In a state so devoted to hunting and fishing that its license plates read sportsman's paradise, Jindal's chosen sport is tennis. But something else sets Jindal apart in this deep-fried southern state: His first name is Piyush, not Robert, and he's the son of Indian immigrants who arrived in the United States just six months before his birth.