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Oil crisis could make governor's name

Mark Mardell | 00:20 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Crises can destroy reputations. They can also make them.

Outside the Southern Sting Tattoo Parlour in Lafourche country, owner Bobby Petrie uses art to make his point.

It's a mural showing a skeletal figure of death in tattered black robes looming over a map of the Gulf, the letters BP on its back. Next to it, a picture of President Barack Obama scattered with question marks, "what now?" across his forehead. But it is the small sign propped at the bottom that interests me: "Bobby Jindal for President".

Bobby Petrie is full of praise for Louisiana's governor.

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"He's doing a real good job," he says. "He knows what we need. He knows what needs to be done to protect us. I don't think the president does, not in the way that Jindal does."

We are on the way to see Jindal at a news conference.

Louisiana's youthful governor was once seen as the Republicans' answer to Obama. He is an Ivy League intellectual, personable, the face of modern America, the son of Indian immigrants, with social and economic views that tick most conservative boxes.

Then he was chosen to answer the president's first State of the Union address and was widely thought to have bombed. Some wrote him off for good. I suspect they were wrong. This crisis is putting him back on the national map and is likely to be the making of him.

At a news conference at Grand Isle he pulls off something of a publicity coup. He was due to entertain the New Orleans Saints at the governor's mansion to celebrate their stunning win in the Super Bowl. Instead he's persuaded the team to go down to the Gulf coast and meet those suffering because of the oil leak.

He said this would be "fitting and symbolic". Indeed it is. The Saints were underdogs for a long while, then their stadium was home for many of those made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. Their victory was a huge source of pride for New Orleans.

But it's Jindal's passion that shines through. There's a certain lack of polish that some might see as a welcome absence of slickness. Southern accents should be drawled out slowly, but his delivery is machine-gun rapid. Words tumble over one another as though he's worried he will run out of time to make all his points.

He uses a piece of cardboard stuck with nine photographs to illustrate his point. Earlier, this rather old-school prop fell on the head of a CBS radio man who I noted - with pride in my profession - did not flinch or move his microphone.

Jindal had just been on a boat trip out to the wetlands where the oil is doing the most damage, taking a senior representative of BP with him.

"You have to smell it, touch it, see it for yourself," he says, noting the first thing you notice is "the deafening silence of the marsh that should be teeming with life".

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He is passionate too about his plan to build berms, dredged-up isles of sand, to link barrier islands and the keep the oil away from the main shore line. He seems excited that the coast guard has approved more projects and BP has agreed to pay off the $36m build. As the man from BP makes the announcement some of Jindal's staff hug and the small crowd applauds. It's obviously an emotional time for the politicians of this state that has been through so much.

The mayors beside him praise his "unbelievable leadership" and say he's been "wonderful".

Jindal says the spill threatens a way of life but the people of Louisiana are resilient, strong and generous. He calls this crisis "a war". He could be one of the victors.

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