Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, once seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, abandoned his fledgling campaign for the White House Tuesday after failing to gain traction on the national level and remaining a virtual afterthought among a crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls.
“This is not my time. I‘ve come to the realization that it’s just not my time,” he said during an appearance on Fox News’ Special Report from Washington.
Jindal, who at 44 was the youngest candidate running for president, returns to Louisiana wildly unpopular — even among some of his once-loyal supporters.
Both candidates running to replace him — Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter — have frequently criticized Jindal. Neither has sought an endorsement from the one-time wunderkind of the GOP. Edwards and Vitter face each other in Saturday’s runoff election.
The state’s facing a crippling budget crisis, thanks in part to a funding scheme Jindal’s administration orchestrated to prevent him from breaking a pledge not to raise taxes.
His top campaign advisers said he will focus the next two months on addressing “Louisiana issues,” though they didn’t specify what his plans could entail. His administration this week plans to start filling a nearly $500 million deficit in the budget.
Jindal is expected to meet with reporters at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday morning.
Citing an inability to break through the brimming slate of Republican presidential hopefuls, Jindal’s top campaign operatives told reporters Tuesday that the past five months served up a tough lesson.
Campaign manager Timmy Teepell said he wasn’t anticipating that Jindal would be blocked from the main stage during a series of early Republican presidential debates and relegated to what has been jokingly referred to as the “kids table” with others who polled poorly on the national level.
“It never occurred to us at the time that he could be excluded from the debate stage,” said Teepell, who has been a frequent critic of the debate selection process. “As a party we should be embracing debates. We shouldn’t try to restrict these debates.”
Jindal had been thinking of stepping down for a few weeks, but ultimately told his staff he had made the decision on Monday.
“He felt that, given the lay of the land, it was the right time for him to step down,” said chief strategist Curt Anderson.
Teepell said Jindal’s campaign, which has consistently lagged in fundraising, ends with no debt after running a “lean,” Iowa-centric effort.
Still, Anderson acknowledged that finances were a major part of Jindal’s decision to step down.
“We did not have the resources that a lot of the other candidates had,” Anderson said.
Jindal never polled out of the low single digits on the national level. More recent polls have had him below 1 percent. He barely made it to the most recent GOP “undercard” debate.
His campaign focused heavily on Iowa’s Feb. 1 caucuses, hoping that a big showing there could propel him to the next level. And he had appeared prepared to trudge-on, despite naysayers who frequently dismissed his campaign.
Since announcing his run at a rally in Kenner in June, Jindal has spent a majority of his time in Iowa. On Monday, Jindal’s campaign announced a slate of appearances there through the end of the week.
Anderson said it wasn’t an easy decision for Jindal to make.
“He’s a fighter and his instinct is to never give up, but at the same time you have to be realistic in politics,” he said. “He’s looking forward to coming home.”
Anderson and Teepell wouldn’t speculate on what the future may hold from Jindal, though they said he has no interest in running for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seat next year.
On Fox News, Jindal said only that he would resume working with America Next, a nonprofit think tank that he has used to release policy papers on issues from health care to energy.
Jindal has been speculated as an attractive candidate for vice president in the past. After he announced he was quitting the presidential race, several of his former rivals heaped praise on him, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, Dr. Ben Carson, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina.
Jindal, the Baton Rouge-born son of Indian-American immigrants, was picked to run the state Department of Health and Hospitals at the age of 25 and was the youngest governor in America when he took office in 2008. A former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Brown University, he spent three years in Congress before taking over as governor.
But despite his impressive resumé that often led to him being described in political circles as a “wonk,” experts agreed that the odds were stacked against Jindal in the presidential race.
“Fundamentally, it is difficult to run for president when you are so unpopular in your state,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Jindal also was hampered because his roles as the both the anti-establishment candidate and fervent Christian evangelical was played by other Republican contenders, Sabato said.
“There are candidates who are better at delivering those messages,” he said. “Jindal isn’t exactly electric on the campaign trail.”
Jindal “got into the race in a historically crowded field and he was not able to set himself apart in a unique way that got him enough attention,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a veteran of four Republican presidential campaigns.
The popularity of billionaire reality-TV celebrity Donald Trump and Carson — both political neophytes has distorted the normal pattern of nomination campaigns, Schnur said.
“Their presence has blocked out the sun for the rest of the field,” he said. “Would-be frontrunners are now underdogs, and candidates who would have been underdogs in a more conventional field simply never get the opportunity to be heard at all.”
Gregory Roberts of The Advocate Washington bureau contributed to this report.
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .