BATON ROUGE — It seemed like a no-miss event in Louisiana politics, a sitting governor announcing his bid for the White House. But the crowd at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign kickoff rally noticeably lacked for political star power.
None of Louisiana’s six Republican statewide elected officials showed up. Only a handful of state lawmakers were there, none of whom live in Jefferson Parish, where the rally was held. And no one vying to take Jindal’s place in the governor’s mansion attended.
The missing officials highlighted just how unpopular Louisiana’s governor has become in his own state, and suggested that few of Louisiana’s GOP leaders may be willing to back up him up when he touts his achievements to voters in other states.
“If I’m going to be in a competitive election (in Louisiana), I do not want my opponent circulating a campaign photo right now of me and Gov. Jindal together, either shaking hands or standing on a stage,” said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana have long criticized Jindal for financial policies they blame for creating repeated budget crises in the state, as well as crafting state policy based on his national political ambitions. His approval ratings have dipped into the low 30s.
The governor’s campaign aides dismiss the low approval ratings at home as a byproduct of Jindal’s tough decision-making and willingness to “bruise egos” to reform government. If Jindal was disappointed in the turnout, his spokeswoman Shannon Dirmann didn’t let on.
“We invited a lot of people, and we’re glad so many came out to support his run,” she said.
Jindal launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Wednesday in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, with hundreds of people in attendance. Many of the governor’s cabinet secretaries were there, along with the chairman of the state Republican Party, pastors and other Jindal supporters.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s spokesman said he had meetings tied to an undercover operation investigating child predators. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain’s spokeswoman said he was giving a speech in north Louisiana.
As for the major GOP contenders running for governor in this fall’s election, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne was in Shreveport speaking to a local bar association and U.S. Sen. David Vitter was in Washington for votes.
Republican candidate Scott Angelle, a state utility regulator who was once Jindal’s natural resources secretary, was at a Public Service Commission meeting, then had a newspaper interview and staff meetings, his campaign said.
All three men have sought to distance themselves from Jindal in their campaigns.
About a half-dozen of Louisiana’s 144 state lawmakers showed up for Jindal’s rally. Among them was Sen. Mike Walsworth, a Republican from West Monroe and a long-time ally of the governor.
“I’ve never been to a presidential announcement, never. I said, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Those don’t happen every day,'” Walsworth said. “He’s been a good friend and a good friend to my district.”
While he acknowledged he expected to see more elected officials there, he said he didn’t take their absence as an affront to Jindal: “A lot of us are pretty busy. I don’t necessarily think that was a negative slap at the governor.”