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Searching for Bobby Jindal 

Four years ago, this newspaper endorsed Bobby Jindal in the runoff for governor. Unlike some endorsements of Jindal, ours caught many by surprise because alt-weeklies generally have a reputation for being liberal (a stereotype that I would argue we defy), and Jindal was easily the most conservative candidate in the race. We chose Jindal over Kathleen Blanco because we were impressed by his intelligence, his energy, his focus, his thoroughness on the issues (even those issues on which we disagreed with him), the fact that he 'got it" on the issue of economic development, and the fact that he moderated some of his hard-right positions over time (particularly after he got into the runoff). Blanco, by contrast, struck us as exceedingly gracious but hopelessly unfocused. We opted to put ideological considerations aside (as we have done many times) and go with the smart guy.

This time around, I'm looking for that same Bobby Jindal. I say that not to suggest that he'll automatically get this newspaper's endorsement again " every election is a unique event. Rather, I don't recognize the guy who calls himself Bobby Jindal this time around.

Four years ago, Jindal was everywhere " and not just everywhere on TV, in my email 'in box," or everywhere else that's safe for a carefully managed front-runner. He attended as many of the candidate forums as any of his opponents, including dozens of debates that were not televised live. Many voters saw him for the first time in those forums and were quite impressed.

This time, he has grudgingly agreed to participate in three televised debates, only one of which will be broadcast statewide " and that one will be aired on public television stations this Thursday (Sept. 27). Jindal's campaign trumpeted his agreement to participate in a third debate (he was pressured into doing even that many) as proof that he is not ducking his opponents. Bull. He is doing exactly that.

Candidates for statewide office frequently grouse about the seemingly endless series of debates that they must attend in the course of a campaign, yet the fact remains that those encounters represent the only chance most voters will ever get to see all the major candidates face to face. Many forums also allow voters to pose questions " an opportunity that strong candidates ought to relish.

True, the vast majority of debates are not broadcast live, but just about all of them are covered by the media. And while many of the questions " and candidates' responses " quickly become predictable, some candidates inevitably stumble along the way, and that makes news, which helps voters make up their minds. More than anything else, debates test a candidate's mettle.

So why is Bobby Jindal not debating?

Sure, it's a safe political strategy for a front-runner to dodge the rest of the field, but since when does being governor of Louisiana require taking the path of least resistance? Four years ago, Jindal came across as young but bold " even fearless. Now, by ducking his opponents, he seems canned, remote and afraid.

What's he afraid of?

Being one-upped by an industrial janitor from Arabi?

Being outshined by a rich guy who multiplied his millions by hawking cigarettes and video poker?

Being put down by a piney woods populist?

Here's a news flash for Jindal and his supporters: This is a high-stakes campaign to decide Louisiana's future, not a beauty contest. Instead of sending me 12 overarching emails a day telling me how wonderful Jindal is, how rotten his opponents are, and how he's 40 points ahead, how about letting us all see for ourselves why Jindal is so wonderful, his opponents so inferior, and his lead so insurmountable " by putting him out there, unprotected and unhandled, facing down his opponents day in and day out?

Keeping Jindal under protective wraps may seem like a safe bet politically, but sooner or later " particularly if he wins " he's going to have to start taking risks. Life isn't predictable, and being governor of Louisiana isn't for the faint of heart.

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