"That includes David Duke's old district," Foster notes, dismissing suggestions that Jindal's ethnicity is a factor. Jindal rarely plays up his heritage, despite the fact that 40 percent of his campaign contributions for the 2003 election came from Indian-Americans in Louisiana and elsewhere. "He's kept his distance from the Indian-American community," Rao says. "Not one mention of maybe the music his parents listened to, or the food that he ate growing up—nothing."
As a political tactic, this has its benefits. "My grandparents, they're real old-school, and they didn't vote for Jindal the first time around, because of his ethnicity," a self-proclaimed racist ("I can't help it, man, that's the way I am") told me in the bar of McCain's Baton Rouge hotel. But it's apparent that many "old-school" white voters have set aside their qualms about sending a brown-skinned man to the governor's mansion—both the self-described racist and his grandparents cast their ballots for Jindal in 2007. "I'll tell you," he said, explaining his vote, "Jindal's just not your typical African-American."
What he is, for the moment, is a juggernaut. RECent statewide polls show him with a whopping 77 percent approval rating. His focus has been on streamlining the state government's dysfunctional machinery and passing ethics reforms. It's not sexy stump-speech material, but even a Democratic firebrand like Brazile admits that Louisiana is benefiting from Jindal: "Bobby might prove that boring or bland is better," she says. It's difficult, in fact, to find anyone who will talk trash about the governor. Calls to Democratic lawmakers and New Orleans' normally voluble mayor, Roy Nagin, went unreturned. The Louisiana Democratic Party responded to the request to discuss the governor with a curious preemptive "no comment." As Sadow says, "If he's got an Achilles heel he hasn't revealed it yet."
"If there is a criticism of Bobby," says Mike Foster, "it's that he hasn't stayed in a job long enough." Which brings us back to John McCain, and Jindal's inclusion on the senator's short list of potential running mates. Pundits suggest Jindal would be the ideal choice to neutralize Obama, both because of his youth and because of the fact that he, too, offers voters the chance to pull the lever for a barrier-breaking candidate. Jindal would also prop up McCain's conservative bona fides: He's opposed to abortion even in cases involving incest or rape, supports teaching intelligent design, voted in Congress for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a heterosexual institution, voted to seal the U.S.-Mexico border with a fence, and has been a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq. It's easy to foresee his becoming, to crib from Robert Penn Warren, "a boy wonder breathing brimstone" on the national stage. So easy, in fact, that it seems more a matter of when than if. "[He's] the model for Republican victory," Rush Limbaugh has said, calling Jindal "the next Ronald Reagan."