Does Bobby Jindal's rising star shine bright enough for the White House?

Campaign 2016
by Nick Eicher & Kent Covington
Posted 8/06/14, 01:10 pm

This article is the third in a series called White House Wednesday, by the staff of The World and Everything in It, looking at potential 2016 candidates for president. Last week, the series profiled Vice President Joe Biden.

Bobby Jindal won Louisiana’s top elected office in 2007 with 54 percent of the vote. During his acceptance speech, he told supporters change was on the way.

But for Jindal’s family, change began in 1971, when his parents emigrated from Punjab, India. His mother Raj was already several months pregnant when they landed on American soil. They arrived poor, with no car and no job prospects. 

But their eventual success brought a lesson Jindal said his parents always taught him: America is the land of opportunity. “But one of the things my dad would tell us every day … he’d say, sons, you should be so grateful that you live in America,” Jindal recalled.

The governor’sgiven name is Piyush, but as he told Tonight Show host Jay Leno in 2008, he adopted the nickname “Bobby” at a very young age.

When I was 4 years old … I went to school one day and told my friends and teachers to start calling me Bobby,” he said. “It was off my favorite character of my favorite TV show. I was watching the Brady Bunch, and Bobby Brady… Well, it could have been worse. If you remember, at that time the Brady Bunch came on right before Gilligan’s Island.”

Jindal developed an interest in politics as a young man, but it was not the career his parentswould have chosen for him. He considered a career in medicine, majoring in biologyas well as public policy at Brown University. He graduated at age 20 with honors in both. He was then accepted by both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School. Instead, Jindal went to England to study different types of healthcare systems as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. There he earned a master’s in political science. After that, his career quickly took off.

Jindal was just 24 years old in 1995 when Louisiana Gov. Murphy Foster put him in charge of the Department of Health and Hospitals. It had a multi-billion dollar budget and a $4 billion deficit. Jindal quickly had the agency operating in the black. He went on to serve as president of the University of Louisiana system and then as assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He held that position for two years before launching his first campaign for public office.

Jindal lost the 2003 race to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whose attack ads painted him as a cruel, heartless person who cut hospital budgets and threw old people out in the streets. But he ran for Congress in 2004, winning with 78 percent of the vote. He easily won reelection in 2006.

Two years later, he was sworn in as the state’s governor, the youngest in the nation at the time, just 36 years old. He won all of the state’s 64 parishes in 2011, cruising to a second term. But thanks to Louisiana’s two-term limit, Jindal will be out of a job in 2016. Many political analysts believe Jindal is gearing up for a White House bid. He’s making the circuit of conservative meetings, talking about ways the Republican party should move forward.

We’ve got to compete for every single vote,” he said at a Republican National Committee meeting last year. “You know, President Obama and the Democrats, they can continue to try and divide America into groups of warring communities with competing interests. But we as Republicans will have none of it. We’re gonna go after every vote and we’re gonna work to unite all Americans.”

This weekend, he’ll be taking that message to Iowa, where he’s sure to tout Louisiana’s 4.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in the South. He’ll also likely talk about school choice, something he’s pushed in Louisiana. Ninety percent of students in New Orleans are in charter schools, and in five years the state has doubled the percentage of students doing reading and math at grade level. Religious liberty is another important issue for Jindal, who is a Christian.

While Jindal is a rising star in the GOP with a solid conservative track record, he’s faltered some on the national stage. He was tapped to give the response to the president’s 2009 State of the Union address, a speech universally panned for its condescending tone. 

Since then, Jindal’s worked on his delivery, and his live speeches in front of an audience are much better. But even supporters acknowledge he’s not the world’s most inspiring speaker in general. Salesmanship and style do matter in presidential campaigns, so he’ll need to make that a priority if he plans to join the 2016 fray.

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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