. By Chris Baltimore - Analysis
HOUSTON (Reuters) - For Louisiana’s young Republican governor, a massive oil spill lurking off his state’s fragile coast is another chance to show his skills as a detail-oriented manager and position himself for the national political stage.
State political experts say Bobby Jindal, the 38-year-old son of Indian immigrants, is maneuvering for a possible run against Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in 2014. Jindal has dismissed such speculation and insists he is focused on getting re-elected in 2011.
A fumbling response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been cited as the political undoing of Jindal’s Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Blanco.
After Hurricane Gustav hit Louisiana in 2008, Oxford-educated Jindal proved his mettle as a detail-oriented administrator who could track ice deliveries and power outages with the precision of a corporate chief executive.
At a briefing in Baton Rouge on Monday, the fast-talking Jindal showed a similar acumen for detail, extemporizing on the different kinds of booms -- anchor booms, retention booms and barge booms -- that will protect the state’s shoreline from a massive oil spill that threatens four Gulf Coast states.
“This spill, it can fundamentally change our way of life here in Louisiana,” Jindal said, speaking in his customary down-home manner with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
“Jindal is very good at getting lots of face time and looking like he’s on top of it,” said Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion, a polling firm based in the capital Baton Rouge. “The oil might stick to the coastline but Jindal is pretty good at avoiding the oil sticking to him.”
But Richard Blink, a boat owner in Venice, Louisiana, who transports oil workers to offshore rigs, suggested that Jindal may need to step up his efforts.
“He could definitely be more assertive right now,” said Blink. “But that’s just the way he is.”
While many incumbent politicians -- including Landrieu -- are seeing their popularity sag as recession-battered voters express their anger at the status quo, Jindal’s support is buoyant at over 60 percent, according to Pinsonat’s polling.
Jindal is no stranger to the national political stage -- he delivered a high-profile Republican response to President Barack Obama’s first address to the U.S. Congress in 2009.
Now, as a massive oil spill from a deadly offshore rig explosion threatens to unleash an environmental catastrophe for Louisiana, Jindal once again seeks to paint himself as an able executive who can take care of business, said Robert Hogan, an associate professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Due to Jindal’s small-government approach, his support with voters will be underpinned by effective administration, not elaborate legislative agendas, Hogan said.
“He’s the guy that gets it done,” he said.
With Jindal facing a $1 billion-plus state budget deficit and likely having to enact unpopular funding cuts to hospitals and universities, he’s not expected to run for president in 2012, Pinsonat said.
Instead, political experts expect him to concentrate on getting re-elected as governor in 2011 and run against Landrieu, a centrist, in 2014..
Additional reporting by Matt Bigg in Venice, Louisiana; Editing by Eric Beech