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. opportunist!

    He would grab any opportunity including purnishing the people of mississippi to get a interview.....
    If he can not tell a time of a national catastrophe then how can he lead a nation just because he is a republican!

    February 23, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. RDS

    @fearful for my country...how exactly do you know that Jindal cares for this country and Obama doesn't....ugggh..Pls shut up!

    February 23, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  3. Jane in Windsor, CA

    Actually, I do believe he's the best they've got. And I'll leave it at that.

    February 23, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  4. flybyshoeing

    Jindel = Erkel

    February 23, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  5. The lonely Libertarian of Liverpool

    Your comment is awaiting moderation. Thank-you CNN may I be censored agian?

    February 23, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  6. katiec

    What is amazing is the media continues to headline the very few politicians who say they are refusing the stimulous funds etc, over
    the majority that are looking forward to job creation, aid to infrastructure and the bailing out of their almost bankrupt states.
    Where are their headlines and hopes for the future? Never mentioned.
    We voted for change and hope and the future of our country.
    Will the media ever support the same?

    February 23, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  7. KLS

    I sincerely hope he's rejecting the stimulus money based on the will of the people living in his state; not because he's planning to run for president and needs to kiss the GOP's rear-end. Is he putting the welfare of the state of Louisiana before the conservative ideology of the Republican Party?

    February 23, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  8. Ms. Johnson, Pearland,Texas

    This man needs to travel around his state and learn the needs of the citizens. Everything about him is fake changes his name and religion to be more acceptable to the republican party. This is the first sign of an insecure person. How many meetings has he had with his fellow republican David Duke.

    February 23, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  9. lil

    He is just running for president in 2012. He dont care about the layed off people in his state. He is a very selfish person. His friend the governor of Mississippi is even worst they should do a documention on both those state. Its plan old Politics from both of those guys.

    February 23, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  10. Tom in Wheaton, Illinois

    The Republicans might as well throw in the towel. Nobody is listening to their dogma anymore.

    February 23, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. Shelby- B'ham, AL

    You're not going to take the money???? Don't you all have infrastructure problem, i.e. KATRINA? Gimme a break......

    February 23, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. Only in America

    Nero fiddled while Rome burned

    The Republicans fiddle while America burns

    Bobby Jindal- As a man who came from meager means you should know better.

    The needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few or the one!

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  13. David

    Leo I'm with you on opposition to Jindal but that type of hate talk isn't needed.

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  14. khif

    eh... whatever... shrug... ... ... ... ... ...
    Republican's make me laugh. So strong are their conviction's yet so ignorant do they preach. What would this world be like if it were a Republican world?
    A cross in every yard.
    no taxes, no roads, no bridges, no schools, countless wars, 1% of the population controlling 99% of the wealth.
    Because as we all know, the entire world wants exactly what you want.
    Money, Privilege, Power...
    Expand your mind guys.
    You are stuck in this pathetic bubble and insist we all join you. What's worse is if we don't want to join you then you hope we all suffer... not very christian.

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. Jim-in-PA

    He just got elected as Gov and immediately he's a rising star for the GOP? Sounds like he's taking the Rick Santorum route of saying what the GOP leaders want to hear to advance his own career.

    PS – How do you give a response to a speech immediately after you hear it? (And that's directed towards both parties.)

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  16. Ohio for Obama- Suburbs

    Regardless of what Repubs run in 2012, Obama will serve a 2nd term. Put aside the politics, prior to this moment no Repubs spoken up with a plan prior to the 2008 election, and then had the nerve to denounce every positive thing Obama try ed to do. This will spin and hunt the Repubs in the end. The American people will remember that Rush and the Repubs wanted Obama to fail. Action speak louder than words.

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  17. frank, pennsylvania

    Disappointed with republicans who seek to uplift their political standing rather than the economic status of common americans! I am an independent – not registered with republican nor democratic party.

    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  18. nancy from louisiana


    February 23, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  19. Chris

    He is ready for the spotlight at the expense of his State!!! I swear his State badly needs the funding from the Government yet his going around playing like he is the Greatest GOP since slice bread. I swear he and the rest of those Governors from the South talking about not taking the money the Government is trying to use to get the economy going should be impeached!! Oh and this Jidal running for this or that is just the play from the Republican play book. They used it with Palin and had no success. They used it with Steele and had success, but he is just a token. They need to learn America is seeking real change and stop the Party partisanship crap!!!

    February 23, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  20. me

    Token...So sad.

    I'm glad he's getting the spotlight. Now America will see he's full of crap just like Louisiana does.

    Republicans will never get it. You can roll out Jesus as pres. and his disciples as his cabinet and you will not get votes because its not what ever now-important-rising-star minority or woman you insult our intelligence with; it's your view of the real world and you past screw-ups that you will be judged on.

    February 23, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  21. Shawn-Tx

    Jindal may be a cool guy. I would just like to see if the Republicans will actually let him run when there are so many super-conservatives like the older lady who called Obama a terrorist. I wonder if they will introduce him by his real first and middle name like they insisted on calling pres. Obama "Barack Hussein Obama" or BHO. I wonder if they'll press him about his experience and whether it's enought to be president. I wonder, I wonder

    February 23, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  22. Where is the OUTRAGE when in 2001 GW BUSH gave 1.35 trillion dollars in TAX CUT for the RICH & CORPORATE AMERICA

    bobby jind-who?

    February 23, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  23. Ilona Hussein Proud Canadian


    I see that the REPUBS. have wasted no time,

    Because of Bristol's open stand on ABSTINANCE
    ONLY, even the once Sarah Loving EVANGELICALS


    February 23, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. David in Ohio

    Did anyone read the article or simply see Republican in the title and respond negatively?

    1. Bobby Jindal has significantly improved Louisiana since taking office.

    2. For the record (and as mentioned in the article), the person who mishandled Katrina was Democratic then-Governor Kathleen Blanco – who, FYI, ran on a promise of change in Louisiana politics and moves away from nepotism but once elected promptly nominated her brother to oversee Fish & Wildlife in Louisiana (the second largest industry).

    3. He's only foregoing some of the "stimulus" money. The only part he is refusing is the part that REQUIRES he and his state to PERMANENTLY alter its tax laws. FYI: Louisiana still uses Napoleonic Code as the basis for its law, which is moderately different from the rest of the U.S.

    February 23, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  25. Where is the OUTRAGE when in 2001 GW BUSH gave 1.35 trillion dollars in TAX CUT to the RICH & CORPORATE AMERICA

    keep reaching repugs.

    February 23, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
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