February 23rd, 2009
10:00 AM ET
13 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. Steve (the real one)

    Leo February 23rd, 2009 11:09 am ET
    Let's send this right-wing piece of crap back to India.
    -----------
    A racists bigot! Let me guess.. Your a liberal democrat. Am I right? Did I win something?

    February 23, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. Carol

    Jindal will deliver the GOP response to Pesident Obama Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

    For God's sake, spellcheck already...... Pesident Obama?

    February 23, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. Sniffit

    "...The Republican Party must not be simply the party of opposition, but the party of better solutions," Boehner said..."

    HAHAHAHA...still the party of deceipt, mischaracterization and believe-what-we-say-not-what-we-do then huh?

    February 23, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  4. DP

    @ Predictable. So I guess you are smarter than a Rhode Scholar? I would always go with someone who thinks through a question over someone who just throws out remarks without thinking it through.

    February 23, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  5. Franky

    "A Hindu by birth, he converted to Catholicism after his grandfather's death."

    That's one problem we have with him, hey we just don't like flip-floppers like that, don't get me wrong, you don't forget where you come from. My boy, for example, he probably didn't even had nothing, his grandparents pretty taught him what he should know and it wasn't until later, he was in the church with Rev Wright and converted to Christianity. Is it the same?? The same situation?? Ummm, no! A Hindu remembers where they come from, not a person who doesn't even know...

    February 23, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  6. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    THIS IS ONE GUY I WOULDN'T TRUST ANY FURTHER THAN ONE CAN SEE HIM. REPUBLICANS WON'T BE ABLE TO SELL HIM ANYMORE THAN THEY COULD SELL JOHN MCCAIN/SARAH PALIN. NO HOPE FOR REPUBLICANS WITH THIS GUY.

    February 23, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. JS007

    Jindal may be dark skinned and intelligent but he is no Obama. The bottom line is that in order to win the GOP primary he will have to take a lot of cynical positions, such as rejecting the stimulus money for extra unemployment benefits and advocating for tax cuts for the rich YET AGAIN (the call for cuts in capital gains taxes is a big handout to the wealthiest few who own most of the stocks). If I were GOP up-and-comers I'd let Palin suffer a landslide loss to Obama in 2012 and then run in 2016 when the Democrats don't have Obama any more.

    Of course, naked ambition again trumps better judgment...

    February 23, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  8. AVEE capitalcityVA

    What does R. Limbaugh think about a non white being the top guy in the Republican Party to run in 2012? Will he hope he fails too? First, Richard Steele, Now Bobby Jindal. Now that is what I call transparency. The Repukes still don't get it.

    February 23, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  9. Scandal

    Mr. Jindal....you need to be concerned more about the state of Louisiana! It still is a mess in New Orleans and you have the nerve to say "NO" to the stimilus offer. Start thinking for yourself and not the Republicans who are obviously using you to put their sick agenda out there to the Americans. New Orleans is still a catastrophy and it needs serious funds to help this city. Stop thinking of your own political ambitions and think of the welfare of your citizens! Obama you are NOT and never will be!

    February 23, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. Floyd in New York

    For all of you that are bashing the Republican party and carrying on with your antidotal, amateur and immature responses I say to you,"It is better to keep your mouths shut and appear stupid than to speak and remove ALL doubt!! That goes especially to you Texas Teacher!!

    February 23, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  11. tk1

    I live in LA and Bobby is a great Gov. you people arent gonna know what hits you when you really feel the affects of the stimulus, this is not free money each state will have to pay it back with interest, why kid yourselves? N.Orleans is in the shape it is in because those people are still waiting for the govement to clean thier yards, waiting for hand outs, collecting the checks, still living in fema trailors. you people have no clue and until you live here and see it for yourselves you'll never know.

    February 23, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  12. Nathan,

    Different face, same message, same results. The Rethuglicans can put anybody they want up there. If he or she is a Rethuglican then the message will fall on hungry and deaf ears. I guess since Michael Steele wants to turn the Rethuglican party into the party of "urban hip hop", (tells how much this moron knows about his own people)then Jindal wants to star in a bad Bollywood movie.

    The Rethuglicans think they can keep throwing out dark skinned faces and people will see them as inclusive. As long as old rich white guys are calling the shots your ideas will remain exclusive which is your major problem.

    February 23, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  13. Frost/Tennessee

    You would think if they cared about him before Obama's election then Louisiana would have been fixed under the Republican President Bush?

    Republican rising star, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal .. same ole.. lots of words with nothing to say.. the GOP can't make their own plan .. would take away from time complaining about the plan in action..

    come on Republicans.. LETS see your PLAN.. !!!!!

    February 23, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  14. Nathan,

    Different face, same message, same results. The Rethuglicans can put anybody they want up there. If he or she is a Rethuglican then the message will fall on hungry and deaf ears. I guess since Michael Steele wants to turn the Rethuglican party into the party of "urban hip hop", (tells how much this moron knows about his own people)then Jindal wants to star in a bad Bollywood movie.

    The Rethuglicans think they can keep throwing out dark skinned faces and people will see them as inclusive. As long as old rich white guys are calling the shots your ideas will remain exclusive which is your major problem.

    February 23, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Scandal

    Mr. Jindal....you need to be concerned more about the state of Louisiana! It still is a mess in New Orleans and you have the nerve to say "NO" to the stimilus offer. Start thinking for yourself and not the Republicans who are obviously using you to put their sick agenda out there to the Americans. New Orleans is still a catastrophy and it needs serious funds to help this city. Stop thinking of your own political ambitions and think of the welfare of your citizens!

    February 23, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. :D

    I feel the Republicans may call Jindal their "Obama" and comb him for the 2012 election.

    I can see it now....

    2012 ELECTIONS

    REPUBLICAN NOMINEES:
    John McCain
    Sarah Palin
    Mr. Jindal

    DEMOCRATICS
    Hillary Clinton
    Barack Obama

    They may end up trying to use Jindal if they had learned from the McCain/Palin 2008 fiasco.

    Barack winning or not, we still have Hillary Clinton trying to do everything she can to be president. I'll probably consider her in the 2016 elections if she's still going by then.

    February 23, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  17. Brian

    I see the liberal pukes are out in full force today. It's funny to read the comments by these weak-minded, lazy-spirited people when there's even the slightest mention of an up and comer in the GOP. Instead of researching Jindal or learning anything about him or his views, these pukes go hateful immediately. That's all they do, that's all they know how to do.

    Leo- You represent the perfect example of trash in America. Congrats to you for being such a loser in life's journey.

    Good luck Bobby!

    February 23, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  18. Carl

    OBAMA GIRL February 23rd, 2009 11:12 am ET

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

    __________________________________________

    That's the pot calling the kettle black. President Obama serves the minimum time and gets elected President. The measure is in the person and the message.

    It's one thing to talk politics, but it's another to just be ignorant.

    February 23, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Next ti

    February 23, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. For anyone listening

    Jindal opposes stimulus money because it is full of unfunded mandates. The government (federal) says states will 'permanently' do x, y or z. The Fed conveniently provides funds for the first 2 years and then bails. The state then has to pickup the tab or face losing other Fed funding if they don't keep a given program operational.

    What that means for a governor is that at some point down he road, he has to take more money from his people to comply with mandates levied by Washington. Jindal would rather not. If I were in his shoes, I'd do the same thing.

    Sometimes doing the right thing is not always popular, nor is it easy.

    Obama continues the policies of the last 8 years that all the Dems are so against. Giving money to Wall Street and big corporations. While they get billions upon billions, you get 13 extra bucks in your check and defend him because he's "Helping the little guy", get real. If he were serious, he would downsize the government since it consumes so much money. Private corporations downsize in economic tough times but governments never do.

    February 23, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  21. Bea

    I guess the campaign is not over yet. The media is so busy trying to choose the next Predient and not even giving the current preident the respect he deserves to do his job...such a shame

    February 23, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  22. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Louisiana is not a good choice to pick a candidate and Jindal represents himself only. I wouldn't trust this guy any further than the naked eye can see.

    February 23, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  23. J in NJ

    Congratulations Bobby. You are one of many bight political stars on the rise. Unlike our current president you have a vision and you actually have executive experience. You have more executive experience right now than the current President!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are running and rebuilding a state that was decimated by Democtaric incompetence. Keep up the good work and we'll see you in 2012.

    Jindal/Huckabee 2012

    February 23, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  24. Bea

    I guess the campaign is not over yet. The media is so busy trying to choose the next President aka Mr. Exorcist over here(his own words people).. and not even giving the current Predient the respect he deserves to do his job...such a shame.

    February 23, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  25. Ilona Hussein Proud Canadian

    HERE WE GO AGAIN! ANOTHER CORRUPT REPUBLICAN,
    BEING NUDGED TOWARD THE SPOTLIGHT.

    I guess that Bobby is learning very early, that being a CORRUPT
    GOP POLITICIAN, IS PART OF THE GOP'S RULE OF ETHICS.

    HE FAILED TO ACCURATELY REPORT $118,000 WORTH OF CONTRIBUTIONS SENT HIS WAY BY THE STATE GOP!

    Just google.........Bobby Jindal............ if you want confirmation!

    February 23, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
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