Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How Wrong Can I Be?

Very wrong, if John McCain chooses Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal as his running mate.

I'm just back from two weeks' vacation, in Montana and San Juan Island, Washington. It's risky to take a break during the presidential campaign, but I figured it was fairly safe to split during what's typically a July lull. For a fortnight, I focused on trailheads, not talking heads. Trekking poles...instead of tracking polls.

Of course, I couldn't escape the campaign entirely. San Juan Island is mad for Obama, as is much of the Seattle area. So is Missoula, maybe even enough to offset the red-state mindset of the rest of Montana. That's one of those typically Republican states that Obama's targeting, and with good reason. Montana's governor and both its U.S. Senators are Democrats now, and the place is still buzzing about the huge crowd that turned out for Obama a few days before I was there (for more on red states turning blue, listen to our most recent campaign song).

I came back in time for Obama's Grand World Tour, with all its breathless media coverage. John McCain is trying, tirelessly, to steal as much of Obama's thunder as he can, with daily campaign events and intensifying criticism of Obama's Iraq policy. There's even speculation that McCain will try to trump Obama by announcing his running mate this week, although it now appears that may be a ruse, and that merely floating the rumor was enough to swipe a few headlines from Obama.

(By the way, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat down with Katie Couric for interviews this week; the Obama one featured lots of hemming and hawing but the McCain one made news. You can hear them right here.)

Which brings me to Bobby Jindal. I left him off my list of 22 potential McCain running mates a few blogs ago, because I just don't take him seriously as vice presidential material yet. He's too young and inexperienced, and nominating him would deprive McCain of one of his strongest potential arguments against Obama - that he's not ready to be president. A McCain-Jindal ticket would be a bold stroke, and if McCain is determined to make one, his list of viable options is short. Jindal could get the nod by default. The Republican field of potential veeps is dominated by old white men, and the women on the list all have flaws, too (Sarah Palin of Alaska isn't seasoned enough; Kay Bailey Hutchison may be over-seasoned).

Jindal is a solid Southern conservative with a fascinating personal story. But he's only 37, and has been a governor for all of seven months. He has ten years' prior government experience (as a two-term Congressman, four years running Louisiana's health department, and two years in President Bush's Department of Health and Human Services). But does all that add up to an Oval Office-ready resume? John McCain has said he will choose a running mate who's ready to be president from Day One, in case something happens to the soon-to-be-72 McCain. I just don't see how Jindal makes that grade, even if Rush Limbaugh has anointed him the "next Ronald Reagan."

The campaign will shift back into high gear in the next few weeks. Both candidates will focus on choosing their running mates. There will be much pre-convention jockeying, and then we will have the conventions themselves, later than ever before, and closer together, too. Six weeks from now, we will be measuring post-convention bounces, and then we should get a better sense of just how close this race will become. I think it will be our third straight nailbiter, although some observers point to signs of a potential Obama landslide.

See? Another chance for me to be embarrassingly wrong, in public.