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)
  1. GOP: Geriatric Obstructionist Pityparty

    "This is his coming-out party"

    An interesting choice of words and how will this play out with his fellow members of the redneck herd?

    February 23, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  2. Anonymous

    He's got my vote!!!

    February 23, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  3. lt

    Up and out is more like it. What governor would reject money from the federal gov when the majority of his constituents are living in poverty? This man is as ridiculous as Palin.

    February 23, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  4. Mack

    There's no doubt he's smart, but his appearance on MTP was less than stellar. He was in too much of a rush to get out his talking points and a lot of his complaints were more of the judging failure before anything happens variety.

    February 23, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  5. Mari

    Interesting that Mike Huckabee & Palin "top the list of potential 2012" candidates.

    I have said this before and will again, IF Palin had been a Democratic nominee, she would have been "crucified" by the so-called-holier-than-thou-family-values-crowd of the far-right, for being an ambitious woman, deserting her newborn and family!

    What hypocrisy!

    February 23, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  6. Kevin in Ohio

    Here come the attacks by the liberals!

    Of course, the Republican Response is just what the democrats favor if they truly support the spirit of the "Fairness Doctrine". But I'm sure most comrades would rather silence opposing views like Gov.Jindal's.

    February 23, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  7. Howard

    I saw Gov. Jindal on "Meet The Press" on Sunday morning and I think he Knocked it out of the Park. Ronald Reagan would be proud!

    February 23, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  8. Christopher, Louisville

    Only in the Republican party could you have claimed to have performed an exorcism of a cancer-causing evil spirit and still be considered a rising star.

    February 23, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  9. Dave G

    I sure am glad Bobby's the new face of the republicans. He embodies the republican spirit, he has already said he will not accept all of the state bailout money, which is a relief. I can't think of ANY REASON Louisiana needs the money for. I'm sure the people of New Orleans would vote for him if they had voting facilities.

    February 23, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  10. beevee

    I don't think he can match the intellect of Obama. Goodluck for the GOP who may be counting on him in 2012

    February 23, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  11. Gerry In Toronto

    If Jindal has any asperations of running for higher office, he'd better address the fact he thinks hes an exorcist as he admitted.

    February 23, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  12. Ted:Canada

    Republicans have such a bad reputation abroad!

    I would not tell anyone I was a Republican if I were in a foreign country!

    Call yourselves something else!


    The New Liberty Party
    The Public Party Of America
    The Free Independent Party

    Here is a few other things to say when asked..

    Tell them you did not know Bush.
    You voted against the 150 Billion dollar war in Iraq.
    You do know how to use a computure.
    Adulthood begins at 18 not 60.
    Yes you have a univerisity/college education.
    You know how to spell the word "economy".
    Yes you can name 10 countries not in the middle east.
    No you can't see Alaska nor Russia from your back door.

    That should fool them...

    February 23, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  13. Rich

    For someone who says he doesn't want to take an stimulus money, I have one question for him. Has he been to New Orleans lately?

    As long as New Orleans still needs to be "fixed" after all these years, I can not see him as anything other than a complete failure to govern his own states problems.

    The Republicans need to stop looking at people with darker skin tones as if that makes a good politician.

    February 23, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  14. P.G

    Bobby, please stop posturing for '12. We all can see what happened when Bush & Co. tried paying for two wars with tax cuts. Send your stimulus money our way...to the people (who actually need it). Of course if you do, then there is the risk that you wouldnt be the Mighty Limbaugh's chosen one.

    February 23, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  15. Maac

    But the idiot turned down the money to help the people of Louisiana! I don't understand how a guy who's "scary smart" could turn down the chance to help people because of politics and posturing to bcome the GOP presidential candidate of 2012? I saw him on Meet the Press and he wants to pick and choose what he takes. Either you want the stimulus bill or you don't! The Gubernator says if other Gov's out there don't want there portion of the money he'll take it for Cally!

    February 23, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  16. gg

    look what the republician min.wage jobs has done to the country look what they have done to the country in the last eight years

    February 23, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  17. The lonely Libertarian of Liverpool

    The GOP can spin its policies anyway you want? This IS supposed to be the Republican Party, the party that was committed for this Nation as a Republic under the laws of the U.S. Constitution.
    I see none of that coming from the GOP in the last three decades. They have expanded Government as much as the Democrats, so where does that leave the American Citizen when both parties continue to expand government into our private lives, this is why the Libertarian party is growing, it is time for the return to being a free country isn’t it?
    Every dollar spent by our government is another loss of Freedom and Liberty.

    February 23, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  18. Cleaning up after W

    Republican response:

    "Is he really a U.S. citizen? We demand to see his real birth certificate! They have a lot of terrorists in India. This guy might be a sleeper agent! I'll bet he palls around with terrorists. That name, Jindal, doesn't sound very American to me! Is he wearing a flag pin? Oh, he's a Republican? In that case, he's an example of the American dream! Vote for us, we have a minority candidate! He'll run an off-the-hook campaign!"

    That about sum it up?

    February 23, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  19. Brett

    Do some of the Republican candidates for 2012 have appeal? Yes. Enough appeal to topple Obama? Not in a million years. He is far to smart and his political abilities as well as his fundraising abilities are far to strong to be beat in 2012. If you ask me Jindal should try in 2016. He might have a chance then. President Obama is going to be virtually unbeatable if he even somewhat succeeds in delivering what he has already began working on. I also think it might be tough for Jindal to get the Republican nomination. If he was a Democrat it would be a lot easier. But the Republican party isn't exactly a model for equal opportunity. I mean many people refer to the party as the modern day Confederacy for cryin out loud.

    February 23, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  20. person

    so this is the GOP idea now, all non-whites respond directly against POTUS. But they still sing songs like Magic Negro and cartoons with dead monkeys representing POTUS. What idiots!! Please go away all GOPS and their supporters forever, the world will become a better place and no terrorists will ever bother us again.

    February 23, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  21. Mike in Houston

    Jindal 2012. America will need his expertise and wisdom to get us out of the debacle of an Obama administration.

    February 23, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  22. AndyL

    Go Jindal. Unlike Obama we have seen what this guy can do in times of crisis. He is not all talk and no substance. God knows we will need this guy in 4 years from now to save the nation from socialist.

    February 23, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  23. Virginia

    You go, Bobby! I won't be watching Nobama, but I certainly will be happy to listen your response. Bound to be easy, considering Nobama won't have much to say except how to spend more of OUR money!! Good luck!

    February 23, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. tigerakabj

    Yep. The GOP is looking to Palinize us again. They think us young people and/or colored folk will just flock to them b/c of Jindal. I've been reading up on this guy for over a year now, and his declaration of his rejection of the unemployement insurance and neglect of New Orleans cements the fact that he is just Bush with a Rhodes scholar.

    Just like Palin, in the end he may wish he kept his mouth shut b/c giving this speech is going to turn the spotlight on the still-unfinished state of New Orleans plus his latest comments. On top of that, he is still peddling the same old trickle-down, "I'm a fiscal conservative until I get into office," No-we-can't, don't-care-about-anyone-but-the-rich attitude.

    Sorry GOP. I know Barack Obama. He is compassionate, cares for the least of these, and is brilliant. And Jindal is no Obama

    February 23, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  25. wish him well

    but don't agree with his ideas

    February 23, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
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