Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is still trying to earn a second look from GOP primary voters, after his widely panned 2009 State of the Union response put a dent in his billing as a new face of the GOP.
Now, some of the key kingmakers are saying there’s a window for the one-time whiz-kid to earn support — particularly if he can continue making successful on-the-ground stops such as one last weekend in Iowa.
“His numbers won’t be reflected yet in the polling because not too many people know him yet, but if he keeps performing like he has been performing you are going to see him be the Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum of 2008 and 2012,” said Robert L. Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based Christian group, alluding to the past two winners of the Iowa caucus, who exceeded expectations on their way to capturing the state the last two presidential cycles.
Mr. Vander Plaats predicted Mr. Jindal will “beat all the predictions at the moment.”
Not that that would be hard: Mr. Jindal polls dead last in the RealClearPolitics.com average of national surveys.
He’s struggled to create the buzz of some of his likely rivals, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, all of whom have landed near the top of polls at in recent months.
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But in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses, analysts said he could be a viable contender.
“I think that he is the dark horse,” said Craig Robinson, a former GOP operative who now runs the “Iowa Republican” website and who also pointed to the examples of Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Santorum, who channeled social conservatives and a discontent with the national front-runner candidates into Iowa victories.
“I look at Jindal and he has the same makeup,” Mr. Robinson said. “I am not saying that he is going to win the Iowa caucuses, but he has everything he needs to be that candidate. It is just a matter of whether he is going to put in the time in.”
The bad news for Mr. Jindal is that there is a good chance he will be competing against Mr. Huckabee, who is expected to enter the race next week, and Mr. Santorum, who also is moving toward a run.
Mr. Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, has had a meteoric political trajectory. He was appointed as the age of 24 to be Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He also served as a top adviser to the secretary of the Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
He lost his first bid for Louisiana governor in 2003, but a year later won a seat in the U.S. House, and re-election in 2006, representing the New Orleans suburbs.
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In 2007, he was elected governor at the age of 36 — making him the nation’s first Indian-American governor and a rising GOP star.
But he lost some of that luster after his widely panned response to President Obama’s first State of the Union address, where critics said he came off as too wooden, and overly scripted.
Political observers say that Mr. Jindal has since sharpened his political skills, as evidenced by the well-received address he delivered at last weekend’s Iowa Faith & Freedom meeting, where he mixed in humor with his personal story and political beliefs.
In his speech, he said the most important moment in his life was when he found Jesus Christ. He also took aim at two of his favorite targets: the K-12 Common Core education standards, and what he sees as the government’s war on religious liberty when it comes to issues such as abortion and traditional marriage.
“The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America,” he said, winning a standing ovation.
Mr. Vander Plaats, who endorsed Mr. Santorum in 2012, and shepherded Mr. Huckabee’s 2008 campaign in Iowa, said that Mr. Jindal had already built momentum from recent visits to the Iowa Christian Home Educators Homeschool Town Hall as well as Southeast Family Regional Leadership Summit at Iowa Wesleyan College.
The irony, he said, is that Mr. Jindal could be benefiting from his poor response to President Obama’s speech more than six years ago.
“That rebuttal is probably a blessing in disguise for him because it sets the bar pretty low for him,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “So when people show up it is kind of like, ‘Isn’t it the guy who flopped on the president?”