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Home > India > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

McCain's invitation to Jindal 'strategic'

May 26, 2008

Senator John McCain's invitation to Louisiana Governor Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal to his Arizona ranch for the weekend -- along with Florida [Images] Governor Charlie Christ and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney -- that re-kindled speculation that Jindal could be a potential vice-presidential candidate, is both personal and strategic, sources close to McCain told McCain is the Republican nominee for America's presidential election.

The sources said personal, because McCain, who spent considerable time with Jindal in New Orleans recently, found the latter "personally engaging and intellectually impressive," and was "so taken with him" that he probably wanted to engage with him even more.

During an April 24 tour of New Orleans that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2004, accompanied by Jindal, McCain dodged questions about Jindal's name on his ticket, and would only tell reporters that he considered Jindal 'a friend and a great governor' and that 'I will rely on Governor Jindal for many, many, things in the future.'

Strategic, according to the sources, because by inviting Jindal to his ranch and fueling speculation that the young Louisiana governor -- who turns 37 on June 10 -- could indeed be a candidate for the vice-presidential slot, he is reaching out to the far right of the Republican party that has been enamoured with Jindal in recent months and have been suggesting his name as a possible running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

"This is a way of showing them (the conservatives) -- even if he has no intention of offering Jindal the vice-presidential position -- that he's not being dismissive of them but taking their suggestions seriously because they are a constituency he simply can't afford to write off," one source told this reporter.

Speculation about Jindal being McCain's likely VP nominee was first fueled after popular right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh interviewed Jindal in February and told his audience of millions that he was totally impressed by the governor and that Jindal would make a great running mate for McCain.

Limbaugh described Jindal as the 'next Ronald Reagan' -- sufficient to fuel rumours that Jindal could be an ideal running mate for McCain, both to address concerns over the age factor (McCain is 71 and if elected president would be the oldest first-term American chief executive), but more importantly appeasing the conservative constituency that still views the Arizona senator with suspicion as a maverick not in line with their brand of social conservatism.

Last month, appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as well as at an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Jindal, as he had done earlier in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, scotched media speculation that he is likely to join McCain's campaign.

'I told the people of Louisiana this is a historic opportunity to fix our state. I want to be involved in doing that,' Jindal said, and when Leno persisted if he would accept if McCain were to make the offer, predicted he (McCain) wouldn't. 'It's flattering that my name has been raised, but this is a historic time in Louisiana and I want to be part of it,' Jindal reiterated.

But the sources close to McCain's campaign acknowledged that even though Christ and Romney and several others were much higher up on McCain's short-list as possible running mates, "if he were to indeed offer it to Jindal, it would be tough for him (Jindal) to turn it down."

"How do you say no to such a request?" one source asked, while reiterating that such an offer was unlikely.

The sources said while Romney led in an ABC News/CNN poll as the most likely running mate and has made no secret that he would like to be on the ticket, McCain owed "a huge debt" to Christ -- who endorsed him early in the campaign when several in the Republican circles believed the Florida governor would support Romney -- and helped McCain defeat Romney in the Florida primary.

But the sources conceded that Jindal, a convert to Roman Catholicism from Hinduism at age 14 -- who opposes abortion under any circumstances including rape and incest as he does embryonic stem cell research and favours the teaching of 'intelligent design' in schools as an alternative to evolution -- has become the darling of the Religious Right and the Christian coalition.

Jindal could well be the dark horse in McCain's search for the running mate who would bring value to the ticket, particularly among the conservatives and evangelists who propelled President George W Bush [Images] to victory in 2004.

The sources said it was not lost on McCain that on May 17, Jindal was presented with the National Rifle Association's highest Harlon B Carter award for service to the Second Amendment at the NRA's Celebration of American Values Banquet.

The NRA -- one of the most powerful conservative gun lobbies known to make or break political campaigns -- said Jindal, who served two terms as a US Congressman 'was the architect of national legislation that prohibits local officials from confiscating guns from law-abiding citizens in times of national emergency.'

Coinciding with McCain's weekend rendezvous with Jindal, Romney and Christ, the conservative Washington Times newspaper on May 24, in an editorial titled 'Jindal for Vice President?' said, 'There are many things John McCain needs in a vice presidential candidate. The most obvious is a running mate who must be prepared to lead should the president be unable to. Other characteristics? Conservative. Youthful. Diverse. There is one name among those Mr McCain is interviewing this weekend that fits the bill: Bobby Jindal.'

It said that 'the newly elected Louisiana governor is an exciting breath of fresh air to the national ranks of the Republican Party. At age 36, Mr Jindal is our youngest governor and the first person of color to serve as Louisiana governor since Reconstruction. A first-generation American -- his parents are Indian immigrants -- Mr Jindal successfully won over Louisiana on a platform of change and ethics reform in the midst of Louisiana's notorious reputation of corruption.'

The Washington Times said, 'A staunchly pro-life Roman Catholic, Mr Jindal has the voting record to match his socially and fiscally conservative rhetoric.'

Taking exception to the contention by critics that Jindal is too young, the newspaper argued, 'We query, too young for what? Mr Jindal meets the Constitution's age requirement in addition to boasting and impressive, experienced and accomplished record as a public servant at the state and federal levels since 1995. In fact, Mr Jindal has more executive and legislative experience than both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined. The question is whether he has the ability to step in as commander-in-chief at a moment's notice. We have no doubt that he could.'

The newspaper acknowledged that 'for Mr Jindal's part, he recently spoke with Jay Leno of the vice presidential consideration: It's flattering, but I like the job I've got now...I've got the job I want.'

'Maybe so,' the newspaper editorial said, 'but we hope Mr McCain will ask and that Mr Jindal will accept. The great people of Louisiana will understand.'

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