Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is poised to join the crowded race for the Republican presidential nomination with an announcement at a rally outside New Orleans on Wednesday.
Jindal, the first Indian-American governor in the U.S., is a 44-year-old evangelical Catholic conservative and Rhodes scholar policy wonk who his advisers say appeals to a broad swath of the electorate.
“Unlike a lot of candidates who excel with social conservatives, he has multiple gears,” said Brad Todd, a consultant for Jindal. “He is the youngest candidate with the longest résumé.”
Jindal would be the 13th Republican to enter the race, if he does so at the event at 4 p.m. local time. He is polling near the back of the pack: A May Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll found him tied in second-to-last place behind former New York Governor George Pataki with 1 percent of the vote.
The son of Indian immigrants, Piyush Jindal nicknamed himself Bobby as a child, after a character on The Brady Bunch. He converted to Catholicism as a teenager; in 1994, he described an exorcism he had witnessed for the Catholic journal New Oxford Review.
Jindal earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, and a master’s degree from New College, Oxford, specializing in health policy. He turned down offers to attend medical schools at both Harvard and Yale to pursue public service.
He became Louisiana’s secretary of Health and Hospitals at age 24. He served as director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in Washington, as president of the Louisiana State University system, and as President George W. Bush’s assistant health and human services secretary before making his first run for governor in 2003.
Jindal seemed an unlikely candidate, said political consultant Curt Anderson, who vetted the would-be governor for Republican power broker Haley Barbour, who later became governor of neighboring Mississippi. Anderson said he initially thought the skinny young man was an intern: “I thought it was a Haley prank. This guy looks like he’s 12 and he doesn’t look anything like he’s from Louisiana.”
Anderson has been a Jindal adviser ever since.
Jindal lost in 2003. He won a Congressional seat the next year and the governor’s office in 2007, at age 36.
As a non-white Southerner, a son of immigrants, an evangelical, and a data-driven technocrat, Jindal was seen as a rising party star.
His image suffered after he botched his first high-profile role: the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union speech. Critics said Jindal’s sing-song delivery sounded like children’s story time.
Since then, Jindal put himself forward as a national thinker with opinion pieces in major newspapers and speeches, and founded a policy think tank called American Next.
He released a plan for replacing Obamacare, advocated a strong response to Islamic State militants, and claimed there are European “no-go zones” ruled by Muslims, a contention dismissed by London Mayor Boris Johnson as “complete nonsense.”
He also reinforced his religious credentials.
Jindal issued an anti-gay “religious freedom” order over the wishes of Republican legislators. He also supported national groups of home-schooling parents, which could help him against other social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina, said Tim Echols, the Georgia founder of one of the groups.
“No one has been more supportive than Jindal, no one,” he said.
Jindal was initially popular as governor. He tackled ethics reform in a state known for corruption, won kudos for handling the BP Plc oil spill, and delivered on a promise to shrink government. He privatized charity hospitals, cut 30,000 jobs, and reduced the budget by $10 billion. He won his 2011 re- election with about 66 percent of the vote.
He also presided over a series of budget crises, caused by the loss of federal help for Hurricane Katrina recovery, the recession, statutory protections for spending, the cumulative effect of one-time budget fixes, and Jindal’s hard line against raising taxes.
By early this year, with the state facing a $1.6 billion budget hole, even Republican legislators were accusing him of spending too much time in Iowa testing the presidential waters and of using gimmicks to protect his tax-averse reputation.
Jindal current unpopularity is a sign of courage, according to Anderson.
“If people didn’t realize that cutting government is going to have some blowback, they’re naive,” he said. “That’s part of what he will be saying, that he’s been willing to do hard things.”
Erick Erickson, a former Louisianan who runs the Red State blog, said Jindal was the governor Louisiana needed, but that his path to nomination is narrow. He predicted Jindal will shine in Iowa and then struggle for money and recognition.
Jindal raised about $40 million in his career and has some billionaire supporters, Anderson said. “But we are not going to be anywhere near in the league of a Jeb Bush.”
Jindal will surprise people, he said.
“He’s engaging. He seems real. People don’t realize, every time he goes to Iowa, people love him.”
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