A defiant Bobby Jindal officially launched his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination Wednesday, vowing to a crowd of at least 1,000 supporters that he won’t be the establishment or status quo candidate.
“In case it’s not clear by now, I’m running for president without permission from headquarters in Washington, D.C.,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd. “But rest assured — I’m tanned, rested and ready for this fight.”
After months of speculation, the two-term Louisiana governor is starting his campaign at the back of an already crowded pack of Republican presidential hopefuls. Based on the most recent polling data, Jindal currently sits dead last out of 15 Republicans.
But during his campaign rally speech at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, Jindal played up his outsider status, taking repeated jabs at both “Washington elites” and other candidates who’ve already jumped into the race.
“It’s safer to not rock the boat,” he said. “But we can rock the boat, and we will.”
If successful, Jindal, 44, would become the first president from Louisiana since Zachary Taylor, who held the post for just over a year until his death in 1850.
While meeting with reporters earlier in the day, Jindal’s top campaign advisers also sought to portray his run as winnable.
Campaign adviser Curt Anderson said Jindal will be a candidate who can offer “more than just bumper-sticker slogans.”
“This is not a guy who needs on-the-job training,” Anderson said. Jindal was named 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.
They’re hoping he can appeal to a Christian conservative base by frequently addressing religious liberty and his own faith.
Others who have already launched campaigns for the GOP nomination 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.
In a statement, the Democratic National Committee sought to portray Jindal as just another face in the crowd, asking rhetorically: “Oh, there’s another failed governor running for president?”
In his speech, Jindal repeatedly sought to distinguish himself from the GOP competitors: “To be sure, there are a lot of great talkers running for president already, but none of them — not one — can match our record of actually shrinking the size of government.”
Republican State Rep. Clay Schexnayder, who owns a tire and automotive repair shop in Gonzales, said Jindal’s economic track record makes him a good candidate.
“He’s done great as far as bringing jobs to our state and promoting economic development,” he said.
About 150 protesters gathered on the levee outside the rally to protest the candidacy of a man who they say put his political ambitions above the needs of his constituents. While none of those interviewed considered it likely Jindal will ever be president, they said they thought it was important to send a message.
“He’s kinda using us,” said Frank Valls, a retired marine chemist from New Orleans. “I really don’t think he’s a legitimate candidate. He’ll just be there to say things during the election that the legitimate candidates won’t be able to say.”
Jindal has spent the past several months traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., as he’s tested the waters for a presidential run. After his announcement Wednesday, Jindal was jetting off to New Hampshire and then Iowa on Friday. On Saturday, his presidential campaign will hold a fundraiser and an invite-only reception in Baton Rouge.
Several politicians milled about the crowd, including state Reps. Lenar Whitney and Eddie Lambert; state Sens. Bodi White, A.G. Crowe and Mike Walsworth; former Jindal chief of staff and head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry Stephen Waguespack; Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson; Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield.
The event opened with a prayer led by Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills.
Jindal spoke of the ways he believes the nation is heading in the wrong direction, highlighting his Christian faith and his views against phrases he’s summed up as “hyphenated-Americans.” The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal would become the nation’s first Indian-American president if he’s successful.
“It’s time to level with the American people,” Jindal said. “This president, and his apprentice-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, are leading America down the path to destruction. Economically, culturally and internationally.”
Jindal also criticized Islam, a theme he has been tapping since January. “I will not be intimidated from talking about the fact that radical Islam is evil and must be destroyed,” Jindal said.
He argued that the Republican Party should stop trying to “appease the left” and took direct aim at Bush, who announced his own candidacy earlier this month.
“You’ve heard Jeb Bush say that we need to be willing to lose the primary in order to win the general election,” Jindal told the crowd. “Let me translate that for you; I’m going to translate that from political-speak into plain English: He is saying that we need to hide our conservative ideals.”
Chad Calder, of The New Orleans Advocate, 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.