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

Jindal ready for the spotlight


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)

    who cares.

    February 23, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  2. ranjit

    Jindal represents the core beliefs of the party. In short period of time as governor of Louisiana, he has proved that, he is a very capable and a good administrative person. He is very articulate, intellectual and I cannot wait to see his first debate with any democrat on the national scene.

    February 23, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  3. liz

    Aw how cute, the Republicans found a brown person!

    February 23, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  4. DP

    Bobby Jindal is a good guy and would make a very good president.

    February 23, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  5. chris24

    I thought he had his coming out already.

    Just because the republicans say "this is
    important", are we supposed to listen?

    Pure crap, as usual.

    see you in 2016 you warmongering

    February 23, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  6. AdamW

    The GOP don't get it. It's your history of "know it all" arrogance and ignorance that people dislike. Just because you have non-whites in your party now does not mean you are "fresh" or new or have any new ideas at all. Same old same old.

    February 23, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  7. Jindal......

    talks too fast which doesn't inspire confidence. Can't sound like the typical idiot MSNBC commentator (Matthews, Madow, Olbermann) and expect to be respected and admired.

    February 23, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  8. Shari, NY

    I said this long ago in one of my pre-election posts when the matter of demographics, etc., came to mind. Watch out for him and wonder why he shows no affection for the simulus package which would help New Orleans! Interesting isn't it?

    February 23, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  9. Had It

    At least it's NOT "the Boner" or McConnell. Bobby has a future, he can make that or break that with this one very important speech. We don't need him to reflect the negative, divisive stuff the republican "old white guys" have been pushing for a century.

    February 23, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Wall Street Gangsta

    whatever man...
    this guy will never be a Barack Obama, and his accent is guaranteed to divide the GOP, a party that has lots of racist pigs disguised as "conservatives"

    Fellow Democrats, for as long as the GOP struggles to find a sensible leader in Jindal or Palin, we are GUARANTEED the white house for the next couple of generations...

    Obama/Clinton 2012
    Clinton/Kaine 2016
    Kaine/Beau Biden 2020

    February 23, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. pat C.

    did the repubs choose him for the color of his skin? is he another steele? seems like skin color is how the republicans think they will take back their power. what loons!! palin did not pick up women voters and now dark skin is supposed to catch the heart of black or "other" voters, why can't they just form a plan and stick to what we need as a nation?! the republicans are obsessed with barak obama.

    February 23, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  12. Dutch/Hampton Roads, VA

    He's not ready. He needs to concentrate on rebuilding New Orleans.

    February 23, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  13. brad

    I wish this was less about up and coming, rebuilding and whatever for either party. How about just working together and get this country on a good healthy momentum after a very difficult 8 years. Basically politicians need to be more selfless as does the population in whole, myself included.

    February 23, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  14. Linda in MS

    Jindal is smart and honest, no taint of scandal yet, but make no mistake, he is a true blue conservative and is not all that he is held up to be in terms of reform. He promised to cut state government hiring, but hired thousands so far, cut the state budget buy slashing funds for higher education dramatically, and pushed forward an ethics reform law which is nearly impossible to enforce. While he's not the worst the GOP has to offer, he may not be the best. He looks great after poor Gov. Blanco and the Katrina Fiasco, but then, who wouldn't?

    February 23, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. Island girl

    Bigots will now be shifting their focus from Obama to Jindal.

    February 23, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. PULEEEZZZ!! lets tell some truth

    Another failed attempt to bail out the DYING REPUBLICAN PARTY.. THEY ARE THE ANTI-PATRIOTS always accusing everyone else for their failures.. R I P repubs..You should be ashamed of yourselves, with SARAH PALIN as your choice.. With all the stress, MeCain wouldnt have lasted, then we would have had PALIN, the clown and hypocrite, as our president.. Kiss the US bye bye

    February 23, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. JO

    What he has said during the past month is the same old Republican obstructionist messages that those southern Republicans (I do not consider Florida the south) whine about on a daily basis. The national media can not seem to get enough of putting their faces on camera all day long instead of doing any investigative analysis of the merits of the democratic inspired economic plans. So, I feel like an economic mushroom – growing in the dark with manure thrown all over me every day.

    February 23, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  18. Will-South Dakota

    Basis of the GOP response... DENY DENY DENY, DELAY AND DO NOTHING.

    February 23, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  19. Ule is an idiot

    If you think demon excising Jindal Piyush is going to get the republicans back in the game think again- he has a tough road ahead in La. He is ugly as sin, not charismatic, and the republicans want Palin-not Piyush

    February 23, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  20. Sniffit

    Actions speak louder than words: it won't matter what he has to say if he refuses to accept stimulus money for his state. Refusing it will be the end of him in national politics.

    February 23, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  21. kevin

    Creationism in LA public schools, exorcisms.....

    Yep, he's "scary smart", alright.

    Hell, an exorcism might be just what the Republican party needs right now. It's fitting that they are calling in an expert on the subject.

    February 23, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  22. Ricky

    Bobby J. is a fresh face for the GOp and i think the futureof the party itself. As a registered Independant, i've been happy with what i have seen in the " new " GOP and if they keep up the good work and stick to thier principles, i may re-register as a member of the GOP.

    After i realized my vote for Obama has gone into the toliet with his lies and huge spending spree, i hope Bobby J. and the GOP can improve the parties image and overall message.

    February 23, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  23. Lush Limprick is the real RNC chairman!

    Hopefully, Jindal will be able to perform an "exocerism" to relieve all the financial and physical pain his refusal of the unemployment extensions will cause to the citizens of Louisiana.

    February 23, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  24. Accountability

    How hard can it be to give the Republican response to the President? All he has to say is "No...no...no...."

    February 23, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  25. mary,florida

    Sarah/Jindal ticket. Great news for the dems.

    February 23, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
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