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

Jindal ready for the spotlight

ALT TEXT

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. Cynthia

    Reminder...Obama has not done ANYTHING TO be where he is at. I seek people asking for Jindal's birth certificate, but have not done the same with Obama. Dems=Hipocrisy

    Governor Jindal at least finished his term before moving to the next big thing, unlike Obama. Wow, just really can't believe that minorities actually think Dems have their best interests at heart these people claim they are not racists, but by reading these posts it seems to suggest otherwise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    By the way, has anyone read the 1200 page bill. Ask your congressman or Senator if they have actually read it from front to back. I am sure you will be surprised!

    February 23, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  2. alpha_nu_916

    LET . . . . THE . . . . CIRCUS . . . . BEGIN.
    THIS . . . . GUY . . . . IS . . . . A . . . . TOTAL . . . . JOKE.
    WAY . . . . TO . . . . PAY . . . . HOMAGE . . . . TO . . . . YOUR . . . . CULTURE . . . . BY . . . . DITCHING . . . & . . . . DISSING . . . . HINDUISM . . . . FOR . . . . CATHOLICISM,

    February 23, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  3. Anonymous

    Leo February 23rd, 2009 11:09 am ET
    Let's send this right-wing piece of crap back to India.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Disagreee with Jindal’s policies – okay.
    Disagree with the ideology of Jindal’s party (or faction of his party) – okay.

    Attacking a fellow American through the words of your quote only puts us who oppose Jindal on his policies at the level of Palin supporters who opposed President Obama in a similar way.

    Respectfully,

    February 23, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  4. Tulsa L

    I don't think they should get any of the Stimulus money if they are going to pick and choose what they want and don't want..........the people of their states need to call them and tell them to either take it all so it will help those less fortunate or not to take any.......

    February 23, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  5. Sniffit

    To summarize his speach:

    "fiscal responsibility...trust corporate america...tax cuts...porkulus...fear fear fear....un-American...partisanship...unions unions...muslims terroists and gaza oh my!...trizzle-dizzle economizzle...Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity should be the national conscience...rise up...civil war...when we don't get what we want, we will sink the ship...the only way we'll allow progress and behave appropriately is if you vote us back in...we hope you suffer for 4 years so we can blame Obama."

    February 23, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  6. Darren D.

    Gov "J", U not Pres "O", Palin is a loster and Huckabee is a TV Star. Work togather, or U be Bush2!

    February 23, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  7. Sniffit

    @ Joe Kiloz

    Yeah, elipses are cruise control for cool.

    February 23, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  8. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Just sort of comment to everyone... people like Jindal are not true Conservatives–that's why they're called "neo-cons," short for neo-Conservatives.

    These people make a mockery of true Conservatism. They're CINOs–Conservative In Name Only. In fact, in a lot of ways they're the exact antithesis of true Conservatives. They don't honestly believe in limited government and they have little respect for the rights of individuals. They're extremists, committed to an authoritarian, self-righteous, ideology, and it's one of my lasting regrets that they've ruined a once-sensible political party.

    February 23, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  9. Kevin in Ohio

    To those that find that it is "cute" that the GOP has minority leadership like Jindal and Steele.... you are exposing yourselves as the racist liberals you truly are!

    February 23, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  10. Obama for life

    Sorry, but this is a clear sign that the GOP does not care at all about the economic situation of the American nation.
    All these Repugs are trying to do is to make the separation and hate bigger and give protection to those who took your taxmoney and gave big bonusses to themselfs and their ceo's.
    May GOD spare America from these white collar criminals.

    February 23, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  11. Bill

    Leo & "Sick": Looks like you folks are dragging out the "race" card. Guess it's o.k. when your ilk does this. You probably bawled the loudest when someone mentioned OB's ancestry. What a couple of slugs you are.

    February 23, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. red

    if he doesnt want the stimilus............ i'lle take it...... maccain/ jinal 1937.......

    February 23, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. David

    You can see CNN's bias in these comments. Either they filter them or their base comsumer leans far left. Either way it shows CNN's bias is left leaning.

    February 23, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Steve (the real one)

    pat C. February 23rd, 2009 10:40 am ET
    did the repubs choose him for the color of his skin?
    --------
    Why not Pat? It worked for the dems! Silly you!

    February 23, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. from a "brown person"

    don't judge all brown people based on this right wing hack!! Jindal will NEVER be elected president, or even win the republican nomination. I'd even take Palin over this hack anyday!

    February 23, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. Matt B

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

    Obama Girl...you really have lost your mind. What was it again that our current President did before he went into office?

    As for those criticizing him not taking Federal money, you are the typical "handout" Democrats who need others to take care of you. Jindal thinks his state can run itself without the Federal "handouts" and related strings that come attached to those handouts, and good for them if they can. It's unbelievable what a "give me, give me" country we have become.

    I live in MA and I know Governor Romney had a balance budget his entire term in office. He was the only governor in MA history to do so. Our new Democratic Governor came in with a surplus and spent like crazy. We are now if a huge deficit and he's begging for handouts from his buddy, Mr. President. People in this country really need to start thinking.

    February 23, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. ronnie

    why can we not get along,just a few days ago we got a new pres.and the people spoke very loud,why can we not get along,give him a chance our country has been torn apart now is the time to try to get along and really try to fix our ways but instead,we cannot get along be american like we were once many years ago and see the good times for us to enjoy we have been apart too long and we all for the most part have had to suffer,so let's try to get along and hopefully we can begin to see change

    February 23, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  18. Greg in Colorado

    Let's see... this coming from a man whose state is still suffering and enduring the affects of Hurrican Katrina. We don't care about his comments. Is he legal? Is his name Christian? I wonder if he ran for president he would endure the same BS that Barack Obama did. I am guessing not since the failing repub party is two faced anyway.

    February 23, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  19. ran

    He will have to run because he will not get reelected Gov. in LA. and he knows it. He will not win because he is the same old outdated Republican and unless the Republicans chance their brand and soon they will be irrelevant for some time to come.

    February 23, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  20. Moonbeam

    So GOP is abandoning Sara Palin. What would Rush say? I am trembling!

    February 23, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. TRUTH

    I love listening to the so-called pro-diversity liberals making fun of Jindal because he is both an Indian and a conservative. Sorry Libs, the Democrat party does not hold a monopoly on all minorities. I thought you liberals were for diversity?? Clearly you are only for Liberal diversity. You are the biggest group of hypocrites in the country.

    February 23, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. REALIST

    Seriously I believe Jindal is swimming in a pure illusion thinking of being ths voice of the GOP or planning on being candidate for president in 2012. It's no news to anyone in the political arena that as of today and until serious reform, the GOP party is reduced to buch of ideologist appealing to the far wright wing base of the party retreated and limited to most of the southern states.
    They are just crossing their fingers, refusing to colaborate and hoping the president plans fail in order to regain political power in 2 or 4 years.
    That is the same mistake Hillary made underestimating Pres OBAMA during their battle for nomination in the primaries.
    OBAMA IS NOT AN IDEOLOGIST and is a very very smart politician and that is something huge the GOP need to consider.
    Somebody that run a clean campaign for president leaving the GOP with no serious tools of attack and a GOP that can only rely on lies and OBAMA's friends and ties as a tool to attack speaks volume.
    OBAMA is a planner not an opportunist and to my point of view he is doing his best to do what is the right thing to do to fix the mess he inheritated by listening to experts from both sides. He's not only trying to fix the problem but he is laying the ground for long economical growth. The GOP is only rulling for a the usual quick gimmical fix with their stupid FAILED tax cut arguments but unwilling to explain how to pay for it or explain the long term effect on the economy.
    It's true OBAMA will make some mistakes but also he is able to recognize them and correct them quickly and move on.
    I would rather have him than McCain and i AM ready to give him a chance and time to try to fix the mess we al are in right now.
    Ater all did a very sick man in ER has a choice on which prescription the doctor is giving him in order to recover? This is a cancer cure. it's takes time and patience.

    February 23, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. Lilarose in Bandon, Oregon

    Yep, he weaseled himself forward to the mics at the White House with governors visiting to tell the country how awful the stimulus is and that he is not accepting all of the monies Louisiana was given.

    I am writing my New Orleans cousin to ask her how she feels about not accepting monies.

    If Louisiana refuses any funds, they should not get any more for reconstruction, and God knows they need it. I was there a year ago and it is a disaster.

    February 23, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  24. Donna from Colorado Springs

    Bobby Jindals time in the spotlight will be very short if he refuses money from the stimulus package! Considering how badly his state needs money to finally fix the mess that Bush should have fixed yearsa ago, Mr. Jindal is acting like just another stubborn stupid republican!

    February 23, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  25. JONNY IN GEORGIA

    this man is a scapegoat

    February 23, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
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