Predictably, Jindal is brushing off the VP talk ("I'm sincere," he says, "I've got the job that I want"), but his actions—flying to Los Angeles to appear on The Tonight Show, weekending with McCain and the other VP short-listees at McCain's Arizona ranch—show he's interested. Some say this is where his ambition may get the better of him. "If he wanted to destroy himself politically," Mike Foster says, "he would take that job. The people of Louisiana would be extremely disappointed." Sadow concurs, saying it would be "inconceivable" that Jindal would accept an invitation to run with McCain. "There hasn't been a losing VP candidate who's come back to win the presidency since 1920," he says.

If washing out is on Jindal's mind, he's not revealing it. "My biggest fear is we'll run out of time before we get everything done," he says, as we fly back to Baton Rouge from Monroe in the governor's helicopter. "These are generational decisions we're making. This state has the opportunity to make massive changes." He speaks of capital-C change with such optimistic fervor that I warn him he sounds like Barack Obama. With Louisiana below us, a vernal sheet of green threaded with muddy rivers, Jindal grins at the comparison. "Look," he replies, "I disagree with many of his positions, but I still get goose bumps listening to him speak. He's bringing a very positive message to the race."

If Jindal, whether of his accord or McCain's, doesn't end up on the Republican ticket, maybe this is the matchup to imagine: Bobby Jindal, the brown-skinned son of immigrants, running against Barack Obama, another brown-skinned son of an immigrant, in 2012. Jindal launches into the story of meeting Obama at the State of the Union speech in 2005. The senator introduced himself to Jindal, then a congressman. "I know who you are," Jindal replied. Immediately, Obama offered some flattering words and Jindal responded teasingly, "Yeah, but you won't say that to the TV cameras." "Yes I would," the senator said, calling his bluff. "Why don't you do a campaign commercial for me?" said Jindal, playing along. "He said 'I'll do it.' You just can't fake that kind of earnestness," says Bobby Jindal, sounding awfully earnest himself.