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. meh

    This guy is a weasel and apparently cares more about political posturing than he does about the citizens of his own state!

    February 23, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  2. Predictable

    Bobby Jindal is an idiot if he thinks he can match anything Obama has to offer. Jindal is pathetic, he is a bad actor at best. He is painful to watch on tv interviews as he pauses to remember the correct "conservative ideological" response to every single question he is asked. Jindal has absolutely no substance what so ever, he is an illusion, a shadow of a primitive ideolgy long forgotten.

    February 23, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  3. Terri

    Doing this is not going to help the republican party. They still don't understand the needs of average american citizens. They are seen as the party of "NO." Voters will remember in 2012 how they stood together for political reason with no compassion for the millions of Americans who are hurting. The American people are willing to give President Obama two terms.

    I really feel like Gov. Jindal hurt his chances when he decided to give up some of the stimulus for the people that are hurting in Lousiana.

    February 23, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |





    February 23, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  5. Leo

    Let's send this right-wing piece of crap back to India.

    February 23, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  6. cnnnewser

    I'm sure he'll have a hell and brimstone speech...full of republican rhethoric that does nothing for our country. It'll be interesting to know if he and his republicans have any answers to the problems of our country (the ones they created) or if he'll spend the time spewing against President Obama.
    I don't care what he says and won't be listening.
    I'll listen to President Obama and tune everything else out.

    February 23, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Once you vote Black

    He is more interested in businesses, then he is in people if you saw him on This Week.

    February 23, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  8. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    GOOD LUCK with that Gov. Jindal, but unless things have changed from what I saw on a recent HBO special about the far right, you're not going to have an easy time of it trying to sell yourself to that group. You have a name over half of them can't pronunce and your complexion is not what they are used to supporting. Personally I wish you much success and with the faces of your party ranging from Rush Limbaugh to "Joe the Plumber" you're going to need it.

    February 23, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. Irma in North Carolina

    Dont matter who the republican canidate for president, they are going to have to change their ways from how they are acting now. They are trying everything in their power to go against the president in what he is trying to do. They have too much hate in them that Sarah and John didnt make it to the white house. If they keep up their hate their will be very few republicans left by 2012. I for one have quit the party for all the hate and racism they are throwing out heir. If Sarah runs again we will have to listen to her hate rallys she gives.

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

    I guess the repubs dont get it. What has this man done for his state...and nows he's a potential leader?

    February 23, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  11. fearful for my country

    Go Bobby! I don't care what color you are or what you have in your blood. It's got to be better than what we have. At least we know you care about this country.

    February 23, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  12. karen-Phoenix

    The republican party is a dying dinasour!

    February 23, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  13. bob in LA

    This says everything about what is wrong with our political system.
    We're 4 years from a national election yet we are already looking for the next candidates.
    People -sit back and relax and press- find something important to talk about!

    February 23, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  14. yuri

    Ah, so the GOP is desparate to administer self-CPR to its moribund status, by invoking a minority talent, Jindal! A prime time speakin' spot is quite allurin', if Jindal's counter-weight to Obama's congressional address proves to be an effective endeavor to, perhaps, obstruct Obama's potentially menacin' advances.

    Let the talk and the counter-talk begin with a bang!

    February 23, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  15. REG in AZ

    Jindal, Steele, Palin or whoever, it doesn't matter they all are following the same tactics and advocating continuing with 'more of the same' failed policies that got us into so much trouble. We need and should be able to expect better from them. The Republicans are showing themselves to be poor and sore losers who are obnoxiously and aggressively trying to fault, block and even sabotage everything Obama offers. Their arrogant efforts at being irresponsible obstructionists are ridiculous as it is simply true that Obama hasn't caused any of the problems and that the Republicans have no real solutions. All of the drastic and extensive problems we now have were passed to Obama by the self-focused, grossly dishonest and arrogantly irresponsible Bush-Cheney Republican administration who literally caused so many of the problems, added to more and condoned and ignored even more. To refuse to recognize those facts and instead to want Obama to fail (as Limbaugh stated) is as if having a childlike tantrum and being without any rational reasoning – it is being part of the problem. That mentality is and has cost us significantly and for that they should be held accountable. They focus on using all of their efforts and the power and influence of their backers to play the political games without ever considering the costs and that is really inexcusable self-serving irresponsibility, which we can't afford. Not only should G. W. Bush, D. Cheney and others be prosecuted to tell all future administrations similar behavior won't be tolerated but even more important, we must really avoid ever being conned into going that route again.

    February 23, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |


    February 23, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  17. Sick of Republicans

    Was Jindal born in the US. Lets see his birth certificate. Why doesn't he use his birth name...Piyush Jindal. I guess Bobby Jindal sounds more American uh. Does he still pray to Budda? Were is Alan Keyes on this one?

    February 23, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  18. Ronnie Patrick

    Dear God, Jindal get a life. At the moment please, please put aside your silly, foolish ,Republican attitude and get what you can to help your people. We need it and need it now. I will not vote for you and I am sure thre are others who feel the same way.
    What in the hell do you think you are doing just because you get a pay check and your health insurance is paid. Don't forget your house has not been forclosed and your children are not hungry and has health insurance just in case they get sick. I just bet your wife is a stay home mom and has not lost her job like most of the women in your state who is the only one in the household working because they don't have a husband lost their jobs not to mention benefits and stand to loose their homes. Get a life and know that this is not the time to make foolish decisions. You are playing with folks lives here you foolish man.

    February 23, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  19. JL

    I wonder how not taking the stimulus money will affect his popularity. If I were in Louisiana, I would be organizing giant and loud protests, calling the Governor's office and throwing a fit over that partisan and political decision. But then, we learned just how much Louisiana politicians care about their citizens with Katrina, so I don't know why it surpises me that Jindal would put his own political aspirations ahead of the citizens he supposedly represents.

    February 23, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  20. Only in America

    The only good Republican is Arnold. Jindal and the rest of the clowns are all interested in themselves and the Party not the American people.

    February 23, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  21. Portland, Maine

    Really CNN? 2012? Really?
    Do we have to speculate about that election? I know CNN wishes that the presidential elections happened ever year (best ratings ever)….but thankfully they don’t.
    Can't we just deal with the major issues that are facing our country today and start speculating about how the GOP will lose the presidential election again in about 2 years?

    February 23, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  22. pjw

    I believe the Democratic analysis is correct; the Republican Party has often tried to give the appearance of change without actually changing. Until it adopts inclusive stances and reduces the death grip of the religious right, new faces in front of the TV will not translate into votes.

    February 23, 2009 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  23. Debby, NJ...foot soldier 'til 2016

    No matter what he says or what he does the Rethuglican Party will still be LOST.

    February 23, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  24. Rick

    Sorry, but as a republican, I will not back Mr Jindal or the republican party with this gentleman.

    February 23, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  25. mimi

    Jindal is more interested in his future political ambitions ...than the welfare of his state.....Despicable !!!

    February 23, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
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