KENNER, La. — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — a onetime Republican rising star seeking to become one again — announced Wednesday evening that he will run for president in 2016.
“We have a bunch of great talkers running for president,” Jindal said at the Pontchartrain Center here in this New Orleans suburb as supporters waved “Geaux Bobby” signs. “We’ve had enough of talkers. It is time for a doer.”
The 44-year-old son of immigrants was the first Indian American to become a U.S. governor and, now, to become a serious presidential candidate. He sought to play up his long-shot status as a strength, casting himself as a man with nothing to lose, who owes nothing to the Republican establishment.
“I will do the things you cannot do in Washington,” he told a crowd of about 500. “I will say the things you cannot say.”
Following a new trend in U.S. campaigns, Jindal announced his intention at least three times on Wednesday. First he tweeted it, and then he said it into a microphone at this conference center in Kenner.
And in a novel move, he released a hidden-camera video earlier in the day showing how he and his wife had announced the news to their three children.
“We have decided we are going to be running for president this year,” Jindal said in the tone of a father saying they were expecting another baby. “That’s good? So was that a surprise?” the governor asked.
“Maybe you’ll get a chance, if you behave, to go back to Iowa,” Jindal told his children in the video. He also promised them a puppy if he became president.
It’s looking very unlikely that Jindal’s children will get that puppy.
That’s because Jindal is the 13th Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race, and several more are expected. And at the moment, he is at the back of that large pack. In a Fox News poll released Wednesday, Jindal received just 2 percent of the vote — putting him in a tie for 11th place. “None of the Above” got 3 percent.
On Wednesday, Jindal’s event included a playing of “Louisiana Saturday Night,” a fiddle-heavy country standard, which may have been the first time the words “Belly full of beer and a possum in a sack” had been played at a presidential bid announcement.
In campaign videos, and in an introductory speech by his wife, Jindal was cast as unafraid to take on long-shot fights. Beginning with this campaign.
“The key to Bobby Jindal is that he is absolutely fearless,” Supriya Jindal said, adding that she had turned Jindal down in high school the first time he asked her out.
When Jindal took the stage (to Garth Brooks’s “Callin’ Baton Rouge”), he said he would try to slash the size of the federal government, show strength to American enemies overseas, secure the U.S. border, and try to reform Medicare and Social Security.
Jindal also said — in a portion familiar from his pre-announcement stump speeches — that he would make sure new immigrants assimilated to U.S. culture to try to prevent enclaves of immigrants who reject American ways.
“I’m sick and tired of people dividing Americans,” he said. “And I am done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian Americans, Irish Americans, African Americans, rich Americans or poor Americans. We are all Americans.”
Jindal also singled out former Florida governor Jeb Bush by name as insufficiently conservative. He concluded his speech by saying that for Republicans to have a chance at winning the presidency, they need to take a chance on a purist long shot.
“Republicans must stop being afraid to lose. If we try to hide who we are again, we will lose again,” he said.
Just eight years ago, Jindal’s political future looked far brighter than it does now.
A native of Baton Rouge, he was born Piyush Jindal in 1971 but renamed himself “Bobby” after the youngest son on the “Brady Bunch” sitcom. He became a Rhodes Scholar, a McKinsey consultant and — still in his early 20s — the head of the massive Louisiana health department.
Jindal ran for governor and lost, then ran for Congress and won. He was elected governor on his second try, in 2007, at age 36.
Back then, he seemed to offer an attractive new vision of what a conservative could be: an Ivy League-educated son of immigrants, who had a relentless focus on making the government run faster, smarter and cleaner. It wasn’t whether he’d be president, one prominent strategist said at the time, it was when.
“We’ve laughed at our politicians and the ones that have gone to jail and made the funny jokes,” Jindal said in 2007. “But it’s not funny anymore.”
During his first years, he impressed people in Louisiana as a data-driven, hard-charging governor. He was great in hurricanes. He thrived amid the hyper-complex problems of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
It was politics that he had trouble with. Indeed, as Jindal pondered a run for national office, he seemed to fall into a vicious negative-feedback loop.
To address doubts among national conservatives, he repeatedly embraced harder-line conservative positions — both in terms of Louisiana’s budget and in terms of social issues. But each time, he moved further away from the wonky, pragmatic persona that had made him famous in the first place.
So the doubts grew. And Jindal tried to be more hard-line. And so on.
His problems on the national stage began in 2009, when he was selected to give the GOP response to President Obama’s first address to Congress. The response wound up being more memorable than the speech — but not in a good way. Jindal seemed overly slow and overly earnest, like a man explaining the government to toddlers. People compared him to Kenneth the Page, the childlike character on the NBC comedy “30 Rock.”
Since then, Jindal has tried to rebuild his reputation among those with rigid socialconservative positions in Louisiana. He issued an executive order to protect “religious freedom” for Christians, wading into an angry debate over same-sex marriage and religion just as other states were trying to wade out. Earlier this month, IBM canceled a ribbon-cutting at a new facility in Baton Rouge, citing Jindal’s order, according to media reports.
As other state governors sought to remove Confederate symbols from state property and license plates this week, Jindal said he would not push to get rid of Louisiana’s Confederate plates.
The governor has frequently feuded with fellow Republicans over budget problems caused at least in part by his aggressive tax cuts. Those fights, along with his frequent trips out of Louisiana, caused his home-state popularity to plummet from 77 percent in his first year as governor to 32 percent this spring.
After Wednesday’s event, electrician Jimmy Nowlin, 54, said he admired Jindal’s efforts to bring businesses back to the state, including the poultry operation where Nowlin works. Also, Nowlin said, “he’s got the right ideas, as far as I’m concerned, about God, guns and gays.”
So can he win?
“You never know,” said Nowlin’s wife, Denise.
“You never know,” Nowlin repeated. “It’s up to God.”
No other major Republicans appeared to speak onstage with Jindal on Wednesday. When supporters returned to their cars, they got a hint why: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who is running to succeed Jindal, sent someone to stick fliers on vehicles saying that he would be different from Jindal.
“Governor will be David’s last political job . . . period,” the flier said. “He wants to take on Louisiana’s most important challenges, not play politics with them.”