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. Annette

    All the citizens, those who still remain in Louisiana, that have any level of sense and sensibility, should pay very close attention to this governor, to turn down much needed stimilus money for that state is shameful. These polticians are public servants for all, not for a select few or influential. It's incredible the idealogy that these southern politicians has used to justify not giving ALL their residents and their states the much needed support. I vote NO for Jindal.

    February 23, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  2. connect the dots

    He doesnt stand a chance.I have a better chance of getting elected.The republicans should quit trying to use a halloween mask to get elected.

    February 23, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. Barbara NY

    Gov. Jindal appears to be smart and very well spoken. But his stance on the Stimlus for his state makes him look like just another party first GOP member.

    February 23, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. Suzanne

    I can't believe this man would turn down millions of dollars to help the people of his state that are desperately in need of help. I don't know how anygbody could vote for or trust a politician who puts politics above increased unemployment, housing and tax cuts for his constituents. This will come back to bite him.

    February 23, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  5. Larry

    The Republican party has turned into a party of professional whiners. If they would spend less time on cable tv shows and more time actually working in congress they might get something done.

    Senator Grassley was able to include the AMT tax fix in the stimulus bill. Continually complaining that they were not included in creating the stimulus package doesn't work. The door was open and they didn't show up.

    They have changed from the Reagan party of ideas to the Gramm party of whiners. It is time for them to lead, follow or get out of the way. For the good of the country they should do the latter.

    February 23, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. Orly

    There is something on this man's face which somehow gives me the creep.

    February 23, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. Ken

    Once this looser opens his mouth makes Obama look like Jesus.....
    Go away Jindal, I don't want you to be the head of my republican party!

    February 23, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  8. Scott, Tucson

    After four years of Obama and his trillion dollars deficit spending stimulus plans, Jenna bush could run against him and win

    February 23, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. not a freakin repukelicant

    jindal is palin around with terrorist from foxnews! aka rush limberger ,sean "p diddy" hannity, and ann coldshoulder. look at his involvement in india with the tamil tigers (a terrorist organization), don't believe me, DO RESEARCH!

    February 23, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  10. Cleaning up after W

    Your comment is always awaiting moderation.

    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 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  11. Joe-AR

    What a moron!

    February 23, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Zion

    @ JL, you know what's sad, he'll probably get re-elected. I'm sorry, but how can these people of color continually be paraded by white men who are simply backed into a corner. I know everyone is going to talk about Democrats past history, but I'm talking about how the Republicans have made it a point of running from its history with Civils Rights, especially with people of color. Republicans signed Affirmative Action into law, and now you wouldn't be able to tell by their actions. Republicans use to be about personal accountability, now they refuse to even step up and take responsibility for destorying our country. Jindal, your own base hates you. At least with Obama, his base was divided, but it will be nothing compared to a group of people who labeled all brown people as terrorists.

    February 23, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. Sandy

    We need true leadership in this country with major changes. I hope the Republican Party will adopt Mike Huckabees platform

    1) FLAT TAX RATE. Everyone including the Oprah,s, Martha Stewarts etc of the world pay thier fair share. No more phony write offs.
    2) Representatives only serve 12 years ( NO in @ 40 and out at 80yrs. old)
    3)No pension plan for representatives only 401 K
    4)Representatives have to shop thier own health care plan with HSA accounts
    5)If represenatives over spend they lose 2% of salary

    This is what we constituents live with why should our representatives get more. AFTER ALL IT'S OUR MONEY THIER SPENDING WAKE UP AMERICA WE ARE BEIING ROBBED BY THE PEOPLE WHO PROFESS TO REPRESENT US. I SAY NO MORE!!!!!!!!!!

    February 23, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  14. JJ

    I wish he turns out like that law and order guy. Remember?

    February 23, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  15. lm

    This may be in bad taste, but Louisiana is beginning to look like the slums in India.

    This governor should take all the money he can and start fixing India, I mean New Orleans. Was there in the summer and it was sad to see a city in such horrible conditions.

    February 23, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. Ravi

    This dude fits in perfectly with Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, and Michelle Malkin. With his name and religion change, and the adoption of an ultra-right Southern agenda, the overall message from Jindal is this: "You can rise up and accomplish anything in the US, provided that you emulate the whites, sell out to them, become just like them in every way except color, and see them as your masters".

    Don't get me wrong, I love white folks... I'm happily married to one. But I do NOT consider any group to be superior or inferior to myself. This guy is the very portrait of a sell-out. I will never ever support him in any way.

    February 23, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  17. Ravi

    This dude fits in perfectly with Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, and Michelle Malkin. With his name and religion change, and the adoption of an ultra-right Southern agenda, the overall message from Jindal is this: "You can rise up and accomplish anything in the US, provided that you emulate the whites, sell out to them, become just like them in every way except color, and see them as your masters".

    Don't get me wrong, I love white folks... I'm happily married to one. But I do NOT consider any group to be superior or inferior to myself. This guy is the very portrait of a sell-out. I will never ever support him in any way.

    February 23, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  18. Tulsa L

    He is just another Republican jocking himself for a President run......everything he is doing (including his position against the stimulus package) is political........the people hurting in his state and in the states of the other Govenors that don't support the stimulus come comes last, Country comes second and their GOP PARTY comes first, glad I don't live in any of their states............

    February 23, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  19. Anonymous

    I can't say that I know too much about Bobby Jindal and I didn't vote for his party ticket in November. LA politics just isn’t something I've followed at any great length. But before hopping on the blindfolded and swinging attack wagon, I'll do my research, I'll listen to what the man has to say and I'll make a judgment then. I figure this approach can't hurt. This applies to any politician, whatever party; except perhaps Nader. I think he's a weenie.

    February 23, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  20. MICK in MESA

    SHOUT OUT to "Sick of Republicans" @ 11:18AM...

    I'm with you!
    Jindal is one of the biggest bible-thumpin' obstructionist racists in the state of LA...

    February 23, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  21. Ariana

    The GOP: desperate for minorities.

    February 23, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  22. David

    I don't think so. he's from a state that is one of the poorest and don't want the money that could help his state. If he really read the recovery act he would know that after 9/30/2010 that he can fall back to his 2009 unemployment tax. His own state Senator but that clause in there. Playing politics with our livelihood is not leadership that we can believe in.

    February 23, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  23. Harry

    If he runs in 2016 he might have a chance, not 2012....

    February 23, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. Lori

    Please, please put Jindal and Palin on the next GOP ticket. I want to see how hard it will be for those white-trash Republicans who called Obama racist and despicable things during the McCain/Palin rallies, actually pull the lever and vote for (gasp) an Indian man.

    Note to Jindal: The Republicans do not like you.

    February 23, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  25. Laura, Boston

    @sick of republicans...you are the reason the world is so full of hatred. Do you believe because someone is of a different religion or background they aren't American? Anyone born in America or its properties (i.e. Puerto Rico or U.S. Military bases throughout the world) are citizens and all you need to do is google to see that Gov. Jindal is a U.S. Citizen. Just for the record you don't need to be citizen to be Govenor anyway (i.e. Jennifer Granholm, MI or Gov Arnold Swanegger (spelling) from CA).

    My advise whether you want it or not grow up!!!

    February 23, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8