It is hard to predict who Mitt Romney will ultimately choose as his vice presidential running mate. But it is clear which pick would be the strongest: Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal.
Romney's fundamental choice is between someone exciting and potentially risky, or somebody boring and safe. A charismatic, conservative choice -- perhaps someone like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- could energize a base that is unenthusiastic about Romney.
On the other hand, if Romney wants to keep the focus on Obama's record, the argument is that he should pick someone boring, experienced and well-vetted who won't draw too much attention or create controversy. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who campaigned hard for Romney, is seen as a possibility to fulfill this role.
Jindal's strength is that he threads the needle between these two competing models. He's more exciting than Portman and more experienced than Rubio.
Jindal, who turns 41 next month, has already racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. Writing in the American Spectator, Quin Hillyer offered this concise rundown of his career path: "Rhodes scholar; secretary of his state's Department of Health and Hospitals at age 25; president of the nine-campus, 80,000-student University of Louisiana system at age 28; assistant secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services at 30; congressman at 33; governor at 36; and re-elected last year in a 10-way race with a stunning 66 percent of the vote."
With his deep understanding of policy and ability to absorb facts, Jindal would easily pass the "Meet the Press" test. That is, Romney could announce he was picking Jindal on a Friday, and the campaign could book him on every political show that Sunday, confident he'd be able to field questions on any subject while remaining on message. He'd also be able to run circles around Vice President Joe Biden in a debate.
Jindal is very popular among social conservatives and evangelicals, whom Romney will need to motivate in November. And although the Obama campaign and its media allies would try to portray Jindal as an extremist, he's far too smart and reasonable-sounding for such a charge ever to stick.
In addition, Jindal reinforces two of Romney's primary selling points -- that he's an experienced executive and that he's a turnaround artist. Having been sworn into his current office in January 2008, Jindal has spent more time as a public executive than Romney or Obama.
Having taken over Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Jindal presided over a remarkable revival. Louisiana rocketed from 47th place in Chief Executive Magazine's ranking of the best places to do business, to 13th. The state's unemployment rate, currently 7.1 percent, has consistently been below the national average. He cut taxes and spending, and enacted tough ethics reforms in a state that had been notorious for political corruption. This year, he signed landmark education reforms to expand school choice and improve teacher performance.
Critics of Jindal point to his widely mocked response to Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. But few Americans outside of the political bubble are likely to remember the 2009 performance, let alone base their votes on it.
Others point out that it's unlikely Romney will choose Jindal, who had endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary. Perhaps that's the case, but it isn't as if Jindal was used as an attack dog against Romney. Most of his efforts were focused on saying positive things about his neighboring governor and touting Texas' economic performance.
At this point, it's anybody's guess who Romney will choose as his running mate. But Jindal would be the best choice, hands down.
Philip Klein is senior editorial writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.