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Two stand out among favorites for the GOP ticket

The Baltimore Sun

Drum roll. Suspense. Who will it be?

In this corner, we have Stormin' Mormon Mitt Romney. In the other, we have Brain-Buster Bobby Jindal.

Amid speculation that Sen. John McCain will announce his vice presidential pick soon, political nail-biters have begun placing bets. Favorites include Louisiana Governor Jindal, with whom Mr. McCain is expected to meet this week, and former Massachusetts Governor Romney, whose r?sum? is familiar.

Can Mr. McCain's former foe become his new best friend?

Mr. Romney would bring more than squeaky-clean qualifications and youthful good looks to the ticket. New polling in Michigan by Ayres, McHenry & Associates shows that Mr. Romney gives Mr. McCain a significant jump and makes him competitive in a state that hasn't voted Republican since 1988. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had little effect on the survey results, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's name was of negligible value.

Given the importance of even that single state, where 17 electoral votes are at stake, Mr. Romney would seem a logical choice. Then again, as conservatives frequently note, logic doesn't always work with Mr. McCain.

Although Mr. Jindal is less well-known - and though he insists he's not interested in the VP slot - he has rising star power. Also important, he's young - and looks even younger. If he had cheeks, you'd want to pinch them.

Reed-thin, Mr. Jindal has the metabolism of a hummingbird and the kind of intellect that makes Vulcans uneasy. Often referred to as the smartest man in the room, Mr. Jindal has a mind that can wrap around anything but the idea of repose.

More to an important point, he's not another white guy. The son of Indian immigrants, Mr. Jindal is both the Republican Barack Obama and the anti-Obama. To a vote, he's a fiscal and social conservative who came to the governorship on a promise of reform in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

While then-Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco told President Bush she'd get back to him about what she needed after the hurricane, Mr. Jindal orchestrated a national emergency system of volunteers, faith-based agencies, retail providers and truckers to donate and deliver supplies to the drenched and homeless.

That can-do spirit is a thread that runs through Mr. Jindal's life. Before becoming governor, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before that, he was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, taking the state's bankrupt Medicaid program from a $400 million deficit to a $220 million surplus. He also served as president of the University of Louisiana System.

Oh, and he delivered his third child when his wife awoke in the middle of the night in labor. Yeah, but can he juggle machetes?

In one of his toughest challenges as governor, Mr. Jindal vetoed a bill that would have doubled state legislators' pay. Mr. Jindal had long opposed the raise but also had promised to let the Legislature handle its own business. Caught between two vows, Mr. Jindal erred on the side of ethics, admitting that he had made a mistake in promising too much.

Too good to be true? Perhaps. If Mr. Jindal gets close to the White House, Americans will hear about his conversion to Catholicism. He was smitten in high school by a young lady who stole his heart and led him to the cross.

In college, he witnessed and wrote about an exorcism.

Though such talents might be needed in the nation's capital, Hindu converts to Catholicism who admit to belief in demons have some 'splainin' to do.

As for Mr. Romney, it seems clear that he would agree to serve as Mr. McCain's wingman.

He has stumped for Mr. McCain for several months after dropping his own candidacy for president.

Mr. Jindal has a tougher call. He's been governor only for six months and has the unique opportunity to create a new state from the ground up. Politically, the fallout would be significant, as Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat and brother of U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, would take Mr. Jindal's place.

Staying put might allow him time to further burnish his executive credentials while honoring his contract with Louisiana voters. Mr. Jindal's r?sum? would suggest that he's always been a man in a hurry, but there's no rush for the nation's junior governor.

When you're Bobby Jindal, the night really is young.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears regularly in The Sun. Her e-mail is

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