February 23rd, 2009
10:00 AM ET
12 years ago

Jindal ready for the spotlight

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Jindal will deliver the GOP response to Pesident Obama Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

(CNN) - Thrust into the spotlight as a Republican rising star, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been depicted as an up-and-comer capable of helping reshape the party and jockeying for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

And now, Jindal's party is putting him on a national platform, awarding the once little-known congressman the political plum of delivering the Republican's televised response to President Barack Obama's address to Congress on February 24.

"The speech is very important. This is his coming-out party," said G. Pearson Cross, head of the University of Louisiana's political science department, who has observed Jindal's political rise. "His speech will put a face on the name."

And put a fresh face on the Republican Party.

The GOP, still reeling from election beatings in 2006 and 2008, is looking to revamp itself by rebuilding from the states up and reaching out to young voters. At 37, the popular Louisiana governor embodies that mission, experts say.

"The job is very important in framing the Republican message really for the rest of the year," said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, referring to the response speech Tuesday. "Gov. Jindal provides the outside-the-beltway, not D.C., perspective. And he's one of the smartest policy minds in the country. He's not perceived as a overtly political person."

Being tapped for this prime-time speech, a job normally for congressional leaders, has helped to elevate Jindal's standing in the party dominated by old pros, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, as well as personalities, such as Alaska's Sarah Palin and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It's time for another generation to come into play," said GOP strategist Ed Rollins, a CNN contributor. "A lot of Republicans came of age under Reagan, which was 25 years ago … and we just haven't built on that with young people."

Rollins, a veteran of the Reagan White House, called Jindal, a first-generation American born to Punjabi parents, a "young dynamic governor" with "appeal to younger voters."

The governor is a "textbook Republican" who is "scary smart," Cross added.

And, having an accomplished minority figure represent your party's message doesn't hurt, he said.

"The Republican Party very strongly wants to have a new look," he said. "They're saying, 'We're not just a party of old white guys' and he's part of that appeal."

Born Piyush Jindal in Louisiana's capital, Baton Rouge, he called winning is first election in 2004 to the U.S. House of Representatives "the ultimate embodiment of the American dream." He was only 33.

By age 28, the former Rhodes Scholar had already served in three high-profile jobs, including head of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals and president of the University of Louisiana system.

Aside from his rapidly paced career moves, his ethnic background and the making of his American identity have been points of interest. Jindal, while his legal name remains Piyush, publicly goes by "Bobby" - a nickname he reportedly picked up from the youngest "Brady Bunch" character as a preschooler. A Hindu by birth, he converted to Catholicism after his grandfather's death.

"Coming from a family of recent immigrants reflects the opportunities in this country, and that's a principle the Republican party represents," said David Winston, a Republican pollster and strategist.

Jindal, in a statement, said he is looking forward to hearing Obama's address and that he's honored to be delivering the Republican response immediately following the president's speech.

"Here in Louisiana, we have first-hand experience with reforming government and cutting taxes to stimulate our economy in uncertain times. This is a terrific opportunity to talk about our great state to the nation."

But Democrats say the problem is the message, not the messenger.

"It doesn't matter if it's Gov. Jindal or Gov. Palin or Mitch McConnell," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. "At the end of the day, the policies they support are not the policies the American people support."

Obama is expected to focus on the economic crisis and the $787 billion stimulus bill among other issues during his first congressional address, and Jindal will likely rebut with a push for fiscal responsibility, Kofinis said.

"He'll probably flash back to the past, talking about fiscal responsibility and ignoring the fact that over the last eight years the Republicans have been the posture child for fiscal irresponsibility," he said.

Jindal made history in 2007 when, at 36, he was elected the nation's first Indian-American governor and the youngest in office. And he drew major national attention last year when he was widely thought by pundits to be on then-Republican presidential John McCain's short list for vice president.

"All the elements of who he is make him an attractive figure, particularly with the difficulty Republicans had with attracting the youth vote," Winston said. "Having a younger member of the party is something to be desired."

Palin got the job, though Jindal did not slip into obscurity with many analysts still looking to him as a potential presidential candidate. And although Jindal has said he's focused on his job as governor, his presidential ambitions are "one of the worst kept secrets in Louisiana," Kofinis said.

Jindal was expected to headline the Republican National Convention in August, but canceled to oversee his state's response to Hurricane Gustav.

His state still recovering from the Hurricane Katrina, Jindal ordered a mandatory evacuation and called up some 3,000 National Guardsmen to coordinate the exodus.

Jindal's actions were in stark contrast to former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's shaky and largely criticized reaction to Katrina. The little-known Jindal, who narrowly lost the 2003 gubernatorial election to Blanco, won the post outright in the 2007 primary with 54 percent of the vote.

Republicans in Washington took notice. Boehner, R-Ohio, and McConnell, R-Kentucky, support the idea of Jindal serving as the official GOP spokesman Tuesday night.

"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," Boehner said when he announced that Jindal was slated to give the response.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates that Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin top the list of potential 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, attracting about one-third of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP, from among those surveyed. The survey is an early measure of possible support, not a horse-race snapshot.

Jindal - falling behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani - grabbed the backing of 19 percent. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist drew 7 percent.

Analysts say Jindal lacked name recognition. Tuesday night's speech will raise his profile.

As for 2012, Winston said it's too early to know who the front-runners will be, but expect to see more of Jindal.

"We'll see more of him, but along with other folks," said Winston, pointing out Giuliani, Palin and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "Without a clear central person, i.e. George Bush, there are a lot of people who step forward to determine which direction the party will go."


Filed under: Bobby Jindal
soundoff (183 Responses)
  1. Nestor, Austin, TX

    It's amazing that conservatives are always seen as racist. Conservatives don't bring up race, liberals do. Why are conservatives excited about Bobby Jindal? Because he's of Indian descent? NO! It's because he's a conservative. At 37, he has 10 times the experience of Barack Obama, he's charismatic and stands for what he believes in unlike the flip-floppers on the left. People are irritated that Jindal, Rick Perry, Haley Barbour and Mark Sanford are going to refuse the unemployment provisionin the "stimulus" bill. They have chosen States Rights. They are not selling the souls of their states to the Federal Government. If the states accept the unemployment provision in the stimulus, it is a short term help from the Federal Government with the mandate that they continue extended levels of unemployment insurance long after the Federal money has dried up. So essentially it is a tax increase on the taxpayers and businesses of any state that accepts the funds. Watch corporations move to the states that decline this money, and continue to flee from states like KaliFORnea, and Michigan that think the answer to their problems is raising taxes on the increasingly shrinking number of businesses and workforce.

    February 23, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  2. Toole

    Every Republican is ready for the spotlight and all are ready to run for President. MORONS!!!!

    February 23, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Vote this fool out of office next time he run for office as Governor.

    February 23, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  4. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Jindal will vote yes for trillions on the Iraq war and nothing for Americans. Is this who Americans need, next he will spend trillions in India.

    February 23, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  5. Zaley

    Just another Republican wanting to be Pres. Oh, how they miss the good ole times and the $$$ it all brought them.

    February 23, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  6. abc

    if GOP thinks electing an African American as party chairman and an Indian American as 2012 presidential candidate are all it needs to get back on their feet then, they're in for another stormy surprise. placing minorities with titles jobs doesn't change what minorities think of the party, it actually disgraces the minorities wisdom. postcard figures will not attract the minorities. as an Asian American, i don't see any connection with Mr. Steele or Jindal both who live by unrealistic, 19th century ideology... and i don't think even my parents as first generation citizens see them representing them at all. what they say and they have said plenty don't relate to everyday minority groups. and what they do... yeah, completely astray from what our country needs now, in time of urgency and of the future. what have Jindal really achieved for the LA people? from what i read, heard from locals and seen, hardly anything responsible as a governor.
    he looks too desperate to run for 2012 when we're still in hot water in 2009, trying to save all Americans out of this recession. this guy is already planning his presidential run in full force? desperate and sad!

    February 23, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  7. Eleanor

    Any reuplican Gov or any Gov who turns down stimulus money
    Bc of republican ideology, with the state Louisiana is in after Katrina is derelect in his duties and downright ignorant and selfish!!!
    Americans will remember this come time for his re-election

    February 23, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  8. BRcitizen

    At this moment the only thing Bobby Jindal has refused of the stimulas is an extension on unemployment... WE DO NOT NEED EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT...we need jobs. Unfortunantly, within or state, we have a mass of people who would rather stay at home and collect money from every hole they can. Extending unemployment is a stupid idea, especially when considering this means by the time we (the state) are responsible for the infux in cash needed to support this measure, unemployment will have Inevitably grown. At that time or small business owners and corp will be responsible for the taxes needed to keep it going. Bobby Jindal is a looking out for his citizens, this has nothing to do Republican Attitude. It is quite simply numbers. You should only hope your governors have enough common sense to look ahead and determine what is appropriate for your state. I voted for Bobby and will proudly vote for him again.

    February 23, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
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