Stephanie Grace: A tale of two governors

It’s official. The national media can’t get enough of a certain Louisiana governor.

And no, it’s not that governor.

The politician who’s captured the imagination of at least some out-of-state junkies is governor-turned-inmate-turned-congressional candidate Edwin Edwards — who, unlike a certain current occupant of the office, has a knack for attracting attention without having to wave his arms and shout, “Over here!”

Just this month, Edwards has snagged three full-length profiles in major publications: New York Magazine (which doesn’t normally cover congressional campaigns half a country away), plus the insiderish National Journal and the conservative Weekly Standard. All entertainingly, and even wistfully, recount Edwards’ greatest hits, from the naughty one-liners to the corruption trials to the post-prison marriage to a woman 50 years his junior, not to mention new fatherhood at age 86. Never mind that his odds of returning to Congress are miniscule.

But despite a relentless campaign to get his name out, Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose aspirations are somewhat less fanciful than Edwards’, is still struggling to break through. A new Gallup poll of Republicans and those who lean Republican found that just 45 percent know enough about him to have an opinion. That puts him well behind nine other potential presidential contestants and slightly ahead of just one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Now, it’s obviously easy to overinterpret these and other unimpressive early polls. Early favorites fall by the wayside all the time, and relative unknowns who catch the right wave at the right time can fill the void.

Still, Jindal’s been out there flapping his arms for quite a while now, figuratively speaking, all the way back to his declaration after the 2012 elections that the GOP shouldn’t be the “stupid party.”

He’s stormed to the defense of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s right to make offensive comments about gay people and African-Americans, all under the guise of religious liberty.

He’s picked fight after fight with the Obama administration, like when he blasted the president right outside the White House following a meeting with Republican and Democratic governors. He’s also taken showy umbrage at actions taken by Attorney General Eric Holder on school vouchers and an unfortunately phrased comment by Secretary of State John Kerry about American exceptionalism (Despite Jindal’s tweeted outrage, Kerry’s full remarks make it quite clear he endorses the idea).

He’s bent over backward to pass the ideological purity test, rejecting any proposal that could be construed (or misconstrued) as a tax increase and reversing his onetime support for Common Core once a certain wing of the party decided it was the educational equivalent of the hated Affordable Care Act.

He’s even started to do something he rarely does in Louisiana. Out on the road, Jindal talks openly, and even cracks jokes about, his Indian heritage. Like the time he appeared at a bipartisan New Hampshire breakfast with Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, and noted that both had graduated from Brown University, then quipped, “I’m a little browner than she is.” Jindal’s ethnicity, of course, could help counter the GOP’s well-documented demographic challenges.

Yet despite all the op-eds and speeches, plus his own decent clip file of national stories, the poll (and just about every other survey that’s included him) suggests that what comes so effortlessly to Edwards continues to elude Jindal.

Even the nugget of good news isn’t, upon closer examination, so good. The odd footnote that Jindal has one of the best like-to-dislike ratios among Democratic voters could present an opportunity — if Jindal were playing the long, general election game and not concentrating all his efforts on rallying the hard-liners who dominate Republican primaries and caucuses. He’s not, of course, and the figure probably just reflects his low name recognition. Democrats and those who lean that way don’t like any of the GOP choices on balance, but they dislike most of the bigger names more.

Maybe there’s just something about the fact that Edwards is back on the trail pretty much because he feels like being there, not because he’s gearing up to be world’s oldest new congressman. Spectacular flaws aside, he’s not contorting himself to please anyone else; he’s just being who he is and letting the chips fall where they may.

In fact, perhaps Jindal should try it some time. Who knows? He might actually — finally — start turning some heads.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.