Have the GOP leaders begun grooming Bobby Jindal as their main counterweight to Barack Obama?  John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have selected the young governor of Louisiana to deliver the Republican response to the quasi-State of the Union address at the end of the month.  From the press release:

House Republican Leader John Boehner (OH) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) announced today that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will give the Republican address following the President’s first address to Congress on February 24, 2009.  The Governor will speak to the nation from Baton Rouge, LA.

In making the announcement, Leader Boehner noted the Governor’s leadership and innovation in public service:

“Gov. Jindal embodies what I have long said: the Republican Party must not be simply the party of ‘opposition,’ but the party of better solutions.  His stewardship of the state of Louisiana, dedication to reforming government, and commitment to bringing forth new and innovative ideas make him a leader not just within the Republican Party, but in our nation as a whole.”

Sen. McConnell said the Governor personified reform and recovery, saying he was a strong choice to offer the Republican address:

“Gov. Jindal’s leadership during a time of recovery in Louisiana, his commitment to real government reform, and his protection of hardworking American families make him an excellent choice to offer Republican solutions for the challenges which lay ahead.”

The selection of a responder is no small matter.  The speech will get national attention, and it affords the person selected an opportunity to allow Americans to become familiar and comfortable with them.  Democrats gave Tim Kaine this opportunity shortly after winning his election for governor in Virginia, and now he runs the DNC for Barack Obama.  It’s an expression of confidence by the party in a rising star.

Jindal certainly fills that bill.  He has already won good reviews for his reforms in Louisiana, a state that could easily bury a weaker executive.  Jindal enjoyed national attention during the presidential race, not so much because of any possibility of joining the ticket in 2008 as for his potential to lead a Republican ticket in 2012 or 2016.  He hasn’t had the opportunity to lead the party in this manner before, and he will have to do well in order to gain standing for a national run.

I find it interesting that Boehner and McConnell didn’t decide to offer the response themselves.  Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi did that while minority leaders in Congress (and did a terrible job with it), and it helped make them the faces of the Democratic Party to the electorate.  It’s an interesting strategy so far away from the next presidential sweepstakes, but I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off selecting a Senator and/or Representative who needs the boost for 2010.

Jindal will deliver some badly-needed gravitas, though, and an outside-the-Beltway perspective to the spending frenzy in DC.  Coming on the eve of CPAC, it will also be interesting to see whether he energizes the conservative activist base.

Update (AP): It should have been Steele. Unless Jindal’s running in 2012, which he probably isn’t, he doesn’t need face time right now. Steele does, since he’ll be the GOP’s chief messenger for the next two years. Why waste an opportunity to introduce him to a national audience and put the public on notice that the new leader of the party’s a minority? Makes no sense to me.

Exit question: Why Jindal instead of Palin? Her profile’s much higher than his. Lingering jitters within the leadership that her appeal among centrists isn’t what it needs to be?

Update (Ed): Why not Steele?  I believe that both parties traditionally give this honor to some sort of political officeholder and not a party official (unless they’re both at the same time, as Kaine is at the moment).  It’s a stature thing.  Besides, Steele will get plenty of face time on the Sunday talk shows.

Why not Palin?  I’m assuming she doesn’t need any further elevation on a national level, and that the Republicans aren’t putting all of their eggs into one basket.  I think that’s wise.