KENNER — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination Wednesday and set about trying to distinguish himself in a field with better known rivals.
It’s a long-shot effort for an accomplished but overshadowed governor, and his prospects will depend in large measure on his continued courtship of evangelical voters. But several other contenders also are determined to win over that group.
“My name is Bobby Jindal, and I am running for president of the United States of America,” he posted on his website. Short video clips showed Jindal and his wife, Supriya, talking to their three children about the campaign to come.
“Mommy and daddy have been thinking and talking a lot about this, and we have decided we are going to be running for president,” he tells them.
The 44-year-old two-term governor planned a kickoff rally later Wednesday.
Aides discussed Jindal’s plans to focus on social conservatives, as he has done for months in extensive travels, and highlight his reputation as a policy-seasoned leader.
Jindal intends to present himself as “the youngest candidate with the longest resume,” citing an extensive background in public policy and government, strategist Curt Anderson said.
An Oxford-educated son of Indian immigrants, Jindal can point to a political career filled with many unexpected achievements. He talked a governor into appointing him state health secretary when Jindal was 24, with little background in either health management or government. Jindal won election to Congress at 32 and became governor four years later.
Unpopular at home, Jindal waited until the state legislative session had ended and lawmakers found a way to close a $1.6 billion budget gap before he scheduled his presidential announcement. But he has been building his campaign for months with trips to key presidential voting states, particularly Iowa, where he has focused on Christian conservatives.
Raised a Hindu but a convert to Catholicism as a teenager, Jindal has talked of his religious faith in small churches across Louisiana. As he readied his presidential campaign, the governor put out an executive order to grant special “religious freedom” protections to people in Louisiana who oppose same-sex marriage.
He is competing with several contenders, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who also are trying to appeal to the same pool of evangelical voters.
While Jindal will continue to focus on “religious liberty,” Anderson said, he aims to prove a candidate can be “both smart and Christian.” And in recent weeks, Jindal has worked to showcase more of the policy wonk reputation that got him elected governor, rather than just focusing on cultural issues.
He has drawn distinctions from other GOP contenders by noting he has published “detailed plans” on health care, defense, education and energy policy.
He has suggested governors are better equipped to become president because they have run state governments, balanced budgets and implemented policy. That’s an argument, however, that other White House hopefuls are making or can: Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
And Jindal doesn’t get glowing reviews of his governance at home, as both Republicans and Democrats blame the governor’s financial policies for causing repeated budget crises and suggest those policies are driven by political ambitions.
A path to a GOP primary victory remains difficult for Jindal. Republican candidate debates begin in August and it’s unclear if he will make the cut if based on standing in national polls.
Campaign manager Timmy Teepell, a former chief of staff who ran Jindal’s two races for governor, said Jindal will focus on the states that vote early in the presidential race, not a “national campaign.” Jindal has trips planned to New Hampshire and Iowa later this week.
Anderson estimated a candidate needs support from 26,000 voters to win Iowa: “This race hasn’t started. We haven’t caught fire yet because we haven’t even tried.”
But the Louisiana governor has visited Iowa frequently and hasn’t gained significant traction there so far.