NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal looks to be a shoo-in for reelection on Saturday, maintaining his prominence as a Republican leader who eventually could be headed for Washington, D.C.
Jindal, who has endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry for president, is considered a possible vice-presidential candidate, though he has said he would not serve as Perry’s vice president.
Jindal had also been seen as a possible presidential candidate, but did not jump into the race.
At home, Jindal seeks a second four-year gubernatorial term against nine poorly funded opponents Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis calls “a ballot of nobodies.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Louisiana governor running for re-election and not being challenged by at least one elected official,” Maginnis, who publishes a political newsletter, told Reuters.
The Louisiana open primary system in place since 2006 pits candidates of all parties on one ballot on Saturday. If no candidate snags more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the top two candidates meet in a run-off election.
But Jindal, who emphasizes efforts at ethics reforms and bringing jobs to Louisiana, seems poised to win without a runoff.
Respected for the way he handled Hurricane Katrina recovery, Jindal has been front and center when Louisiana faced threats such as a barrage of tropical storms and a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“He was home for the hurricanes,” Maginnis said.
Jindal’s high-energy, businesslike approach to governing helped smooth his relations with Louisiana voters, even as many outside Louisiana remember him mainly for the public stumble he took in February 2009.
Assigned to rebut President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address to Congress, the governor delivered a speech even many Republicans saw as awkward.
Yet Jindal managed to maintain a high profile within the Republican Party. As Perry became a rising star in the presidential race, he sought and received Jindal’s support.
While Perry’s momentum has waned as rival Republican Mitt Romney has come on strong, the bond Jindal forged will come in handy down the line, perhaps in a future run for the U.S. Senate, Maginnis said.
“Some people say endorsing Perry was a mistake, but I don’t think so,” Maginnis said. “I think Jindal made a good friend in Rick Perry, and Perry is going to be a player from now on regardless of what happens in this election.”
Jindal said last month that he would not be Perry’s vice president, saying he wants to continue as governor of Louisiana.
Born in the United States to parents who emigrated from India, Jindal is a far cry from the glad-handing, Cajun Country politicians who occupied the Governor’s Mansion for several decades before he got there.
Jindal has visited his share of Cajun rodeos and crawfish boils, but the diminutive, academically inclined governor would be a rare find in a Louisiana duck blind or a weekend fishing camp, where his predecessors Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster were known to be at home.
“Bobby Jindal has a different style from previous governors,” said Baton Rouge political analyst and pollster Bernie Pinsonat.
“He’s not seen as everybody’s buddy,” Pinsonat told Reuters. “I was curious if he could make that work, but he’s done it.”
He did it through a combination of political reform and a well-honed public relations effort, Pinsonat said.
Jindal had campaigned promising to clean up Louisiana’s scandal- and corruption-plagued political system, and pushed through numerous ethics reforms.
His office has also made almost weekly announcements of corporate expansions, plant openings and new jobs stemming from the administration’s use of economic development funds to award grants, tax breaks and job training assistance to businesses.
“Jindal has really spent a lot of time convincing Louisiana that he’s bringing jobs and plants,” Pinsonat said. “A majority of people are giving him an A-plus for effort.”
One who does not is Tara Hollis, a North Louisiana school teacher seen as Jindal’s strongest Democratic opponent on the Saturday ballot.
“I just don’t believe he’s out there working for the people of Louisiana,” Hollis told Reuters. “As much as this administration wants to say they are pushing forward with job growth, it just isn’t there.”
Hollis said her analysis of new business coming to Louisiana shows far fewer jobs will result than the thousands Jindal touts in a new TV ad.
“They’re phantom jobs,” she said. “They don’t add up.”
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton