Washington — Gov. Bobby Jindal must be experiencing at least a little frustration these days.
Just last week, he saw one of his rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, attract a lot of favorable attention for proposing an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law known as “Obamacare.”
“Walker shakes up GOP field with plan to replace Obamacare,” read the headline in The Hill, a Washington news outlet popular inside the Beltway.
Walker, The Hill wrote, “became the first leading presidential candidate to put forward a detailed replacement plan for the healthcare reform law.”
To Jindal, that must have stung: He released a lengthy blueprint for replacing the health care law more than a year ago. The Hill did note Jindal’s earlier proposal but explained the article’s qualification of the announcement by Walker — the key word is “leading” — by adding that Jindal “has trailed in the polls.”
Which he has — badly, and stubbornly. And he seems to be headed in the wrong direction. While his most common score in national polls of Republican voters over the past few months has been 2 percent, Jindal has failed to achieve even that modest number lately. He logged in at 1 percent in two recent surveys and at 0 percent in a CNN poll of Aug. 13-16. His average of 0.7 percent in those three polls slots him at 14th in the crowded Republican field, according to the Real Clear Politics website.
Walker ranks fourth in that same average, and in a time-honored attempt to punch up, Jindal challenged Walker to a health care debate. It’s not the first time he’s tried to grab the coattails of a candidate ahead of him in the polls: Earlier this month, he announced he would sprinkle the name of the flamboyant Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, in his campaign speeches at random to draw more media attention (although that was rather tongue-in-cheek).
The Jindal campaign stresses that its strategy is not national — because the nomination is not determined by a national vote — but is focused instead on the early states in the process. Jindal has campaigned heavily in Iowa, which starts things off with its Feb. 1 caucuses. His staff and supporters regularly tweet of enthusiastic, overflow crowds in cities and towns across Iowa, where Jindal’s reputed genius at retail politics can shine. But those Iowans apparently aren’t talking to the pollsters, who register only the barest improvement over Jindal’s national numbers in their surveys of likely caucusgoers in the state.
History shows that polls taken this early in the process are pretty much worthless in terms of predicting the ultimate winner of the nomination. Jindal, though, is eager to tout the rare and transitory bump in his survey standings, so it’s not like he’s not paying attention.
Nor, apparently, is he not trying: The centrist National Journal calls Jindal the clickbait candidate, in reference to his clever comments (such as the Trump remark) and his one-liners. He has said leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who is taking heat for her use of her personal computer server for official business as secretary of state, is “one email away from prison.” He has suggested she can consult with ex-inmate Martha Stewart and has alluded to a popular Netflix TV series: “Orange really will be the new black.”
Unfortunately for Jindal, the polls carry more significance at this stage of this election cycle than is inherent in their predictive value (or lack thereof). Fox News drew on five fresh national polls to select the top 10 candidates to appear in its prime-time TV debate Aug. 6, assigning Jindal and six other also-rans to a late-afternoon forum that drew one-fourth the audience of the featured event.
CNN, which will carry the next national TV debate, on Sept. 16, also will divide the candidates into an A team and a B team based on national polls. And because CNN is averaging surveys from July 16 to Sept. 10 in making its selection, Jindal has virtually no chance to vault to the top 10, because of his long string of dismal rankings.
Repeated relegation of Jindal and other struggling contenders to the kids’ table “will crystallize problems with those campaigns,” The Hill wrote in another article this month. That one was headlined, “Seven GOP candidates who could drop from ’16 race before Iowa.”
Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is groberts@the advocate.com, and he is on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of national government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/