Don’t expect any major surprises when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal makes his presidential campaign official on Wednesday.
The governor has spent recent months fine-tuning his case for the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination, focusing on conservative social and economic positions as he has crisscrossed the country for events in Iowa; New Hampshire; Washington, D.C.; and South Carolina.
“This is not a surprise for anyone. He’s been angling for this for months, if not years,” said Brian Brox, a political science professor at Tulane.
University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak put it this way: “Gov. Jindal is nothing if not consistent.”
Jindal’s presidential ambitions represent the latest leap in a short career marked with major accomplishments. Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar and son of Indian immigrants, became the nation’s youngest sitting governor when he took office in 2008. By that time, he had already served in Congress, led the University of Louisiana System, headed the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and served in President George W. Bush’s administration. Once a Republican wunderkind, Jindal lost some of his shine after a widely panned response to President Barack Obama’s 2009 State of the Union speech but has spent the years since trying to stake his place within the GOP.
When Jindal, 44, hits the stage of the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner on Wednesday, most local political observers are anticipating he will closely follow a familiar speech that highlights his focus on religious liberty and Louisiana’s economic growth under his watch.
“He needs to put on a show that causes people to take notice,” Brox said. “I think it will play to a national audience, as well as that key conservative base he needs in the primary states.”
The governor has spent the past several months denouncing liberals who he often says are “trying to turn the American dream into the European nightmare.” He has touted policy papers released through his organization America Next on topics ranging from health care to energy.
He often has spoken of his economic successes in Louisiana. The private-sector economy and job growth have outpaced the national average during his two terms in office. He has frequently dismissed criticism of his administration as being whining over tough decisions he has made — a message that could carry weight on a national stage.
“Those are the sorts of people who he’s trying to attract nationally,” LSU political science professor Robert Hogan said. “He hasn’t made everyone happy here, but he has governed in a way that is very consistent with his values.”
When asked what sets him apart, Jindal is quick to point out his experience as governor, and even while some critics here have questioned his claims of success, such criticism hasn’t yet caught fire on the national level.
“Winning a nomination and a general election is about talking to the American people, but also showing them that you can do the job if elected,” Brox said.
Jindal’s entering an already crowded field of candidates seeking the GOP nomination. Others who have formally launched campaigns in recent weeks include: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas; Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Marco Rubio, of Florida; and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; and real estate mogul Donald Trump, among others.
Jindal has spent recent weeks building a team of political operatives who will make up the framework for his campaign, relying heavily on people who have worked with him in the past, particularly on his gubernatorial campaigns and in the Governor’s Office.
After announcing, Jindal will round out the workweek in New Hampshire and Iowa — early-voting states that he has frequently visited in recent months while flirting with a 2016 run. On Saturday, his presidential exploratory committee will host a fundraiser and reception in Baton Rouge.
Brox said Jindal’s big test in the coming weeks will be fundraising — the key to building a sustainable campaign, particularly in a race with several high-profile candidates, like Bush, and wealthy candidates who can self-finance, like Trump.
“He will see a bit of a public opinion bump after this. He needs a fundraising bump,” Brox said. “The polling will come if he can raise the money.”
Louisiana has a history of politicians aspiring to the Oval Office, though just one has made it that far.
Zachary Taylor, who died in office in 1850 having served just over a year, remains the only U.S. president to have been elected from Louisiana.
But others have tried.
Huey Long, one of the state’s most colorful and best-known governors, penned a book called “My First Days in the White House” that laid out his plans to run for president in 1936. He was shot and killed in the State Capitol in 1935.
David Duke, a former Louisiana lawmaker who is perhaps most known for his white nationalist views and for being a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, ran for president in 1988 and 1992 from the Pelican State.
Former Gov. Buddy Roemer, the most recent, sought the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination but failed to make it onto any nationally televised Republican debate stage. He eventually dropped his long-shot bid and ended his campaign after 17 months that included seeking a third-party endorsement.
While they’ve both been elected governor in Louisiana, Chervenak said he doesn’t expect Jindal’s campaign to resemble Roemer’s.
“Roemer ran as a real outsider — he ran as much more of a populist,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to be Gov. Jindal’s approach.”
He also noted the all-important money factor.
“The field’s so crowded at this point, it’s going to be difficult to find donors to back him,” Chervenak said.
Hogan said he believes the Republican nomination isn’t a lock for anyone at this point, and voters shouldn’t count out Jindal, despite his low standing in most polls.
“He’s got to make a compelling case,” he said of Wednesday’s announcement. “He doesn’t have a clear path to the nomination at this point, but the good news for him is no one else does, either.”