SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Gov. Bobby Jindal was standing in a Elks lodge Monday night in a small city in a rural, northern part of the state, trying to woo potential voters.
It may sound like a story out of the 2007 run for governor that had Jindal on countless tours across Louisiana, but this time, Jindal’s in northern Iowa and the stakes are much higher.
Since launching his campaign for president earlier this summer, Jindal has spent considerable time in Iowa — the state that will host the nation’s first presidential caucus Feb. 1.
Of the 17-person slate of Republican presidential hopefuls, Jindal doesn’t have the best name recognition and hasn’t managed to break his way into the top tier of the pack. It’s not for trying — Jindal has frequently commented on hot-button issues and he’s released several conservative policy papers on topics ranging from energy to health care.
But here on the ground, in gatherings small and large, is where Jindal is hoping to build traction over the five months left until the caucus and replicate the win that sent him to the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion for eight years.
Jindal’s campaign, backed by the Believe Again political action committee that has hosted several town halls across the state, is planning to hit all 99 counties in Iowa.
“I know that if we get into this together, it’s not too late to rescue this country,” Jindal told a crowd Monday, where about 70 people crammed into the Sioux City Elks lodge in an industrial area just a stone’s throw from Interstate 29.
The crowd laughed as Jindal gave an introductory stump speech peppered with jokes and burst out in enthusiastic applause at several points. Questions from the attendees showed they weren’t entirely familiar with his political repertoire, but their engagement indicated they were interested in learning more.
“I think it’s important to not only talk to voters but listen to them,” Jindal said after the event. In that way, he said the strategy is similar to his 2007 campaign for governor. “Some people in this race have famous last names or lots of money ... We don’t have that.”
This sort of retail politics is where Jindal shines, and it is central to his game plan here. A surprise showing in the caucus could help catapult his campaign into a realm he, so far, hasn’t managed to reach.
“The problem is his name isn’t out there as much — people don’t know him, but once they get to know him, they love him,” said Iowa resident Vicki Ford, a Jindal supporter.
About 75 people gathered Sunday night at Ford’s home in a quiet Sergeant Bluff subdivision, located just a block away from a corn field, to hear from Jindal. The crowd — some of Ford’s friends, some complete strangers — “loved him,” Ford said the next day.
“He wasn’t even gone, and I was already getting texts from people about how impressed they were,” she said. “He stayed until the last person left.”
Ford, a nurse, first met the Louisiana governor during a campaign stop in July but didn’t know much about him before that. She said they bonded when she asked him a question about funding for cancer research — a subject near and dear to her heart and, surprisingly to her, to Jindal’s as well.
Ford’s husband died of pancreatic cancer in 2006. Jindal’s mother is being treated for cancer.
“That just drew me in even closer to him,” Ford said. “He’s also very conservative, and he has faith and keeps that with him daily.
“He could make America strong again.”
Ford spent time calling people, passing out fliers around town and running ads in a local weekly publication to get people to come see Jindal in person.
“I think people need to get to know him,” Ford said.
In these settings, Jindal comes across as more relatable and personable, she said.
“He’s talking to you — really to you and not at you — and that’s what people love,” she said.
In Ford’s home, there were jokes about Jindal’s Ivy League education and the origins of his name (Jindal, whose legal first name is Piyush, adopted the name “Bobby” at age 4 in honor of the “Brady Bunch” character).
In Iowa, it’s not unusual to bump into a presidential candidate. Ford said she once went to the mall and, upon arrival, found out that another Republican running for president was there. She couldn’t get near him without first buying a book, she said. Similarly, she said she has heard of local events that have had crowds orchestrated by the campaign’s teams or state party leaders. She had free reign over the invite list for Jindal’s event, she said.
On Monday, Jindal got his first major political endorsement in Iowa.
Iowa Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said in a statement Monday that he is backing Jindal because of his “strong Christian principles” and conservative positions on issues such as guns and abortion.
“After much thought, prayer, research and discussions with my wife, I have decided to make an endorsement in the presidential race,” Windschitl said.