Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was in Washington on Monday trying to stake his claim to be the conservative standard-bearer in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, but voters so far aren’t buying in.
Mr. Jindal, barred from seeking a third term as governor later this year, unveiled a plan Monday to strengthen the nation’s education system, focusing on expanding school choice options and gutting the Common Core standards that many states have adopted.
Previously, he rolled out policy papers that read like a conservative wish list: repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the Keystone XL pipeline and adopting a more robust foreign policy that includes stopping Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
But polls show him struggling to gain traction, or even attention, amid a crowded field with strong rivals at the top, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
For his part, Mr. Jindal said, “I don’t worry about polling.”
Mr. Jindal explained his slow start by saying his state doesn’t earn much press attention, and he said he believes voters will gravitate toward him, even if establishment gatekeepers do not.
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“The reality is this election, I don’t think, will be decided by the insiders,” he said. “I don’t think the voters want the donors, the political consultants, the establishment to pick their candidate.”
During two meetings with the press Monday, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor and the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Jindal said he thinks governors make for better presidents and said that the Obama administration is more proof of that heading into 2016.
“It is not going to be about who can tell the best joke or give the best speech,” Mr. Jindal said. “We had that election, and we got this president, who needed six years of on the job training because he had never run anything before.”
Mike McKenna, a GOP consultant, said that Mr. Jindal is without question one of the “three or four” smartest potential candidates, and said an argument could be made that the 43-year-old has compiled the best record of any Louisiana governor.
“So, if the product is good, then what is the problem?” Mr. Mckenna said. “The problem is packaging. He’s a smart guy, his policies are right, but the reality of it is few people think of him as presidential.”
Mr. McKenna said Mr. Jindal can come off as being too eager to elbow his way onto the national stage.
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“It is kind of like dating,” Mr. McKenna said. “Nobody, boys or girls, nobody wants to deal with the needy person. You want to date the cool kid and he comes across as a little bit too anxious to be loved.”
Mr. Jindal has also struggled to overcome his widely panned response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2009, and analysts said his style may be too wooden to build a winning coalition in a national election.
Early polling does not bode well for him, with the latest Real Clear Politics average of surveys showing Mr. Jindal running last in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In searching for an issue to champion, Mr. Jindal has settled on education, and in particular his newfound opposition to the Common Core standards, which are state-based, but have raised the ire of conservatives who argue they amount to federal intrusion.
Mr. Jindal said that supporters of Common Core are aligning with Washington bureaucrats and against parents who want more say in their children’s education.
“I come down on the side of trusting local parents, local teachers and local officials — trusting competition, not thinking it is better to have an unelected elite, a group of bureaucrats in D.C., making these decision for us,” said the governor, who is now pushing to stop the standards in Louisiana.