As expected, Gov. Bobby Jindal made it official last week. Hours before Jindal was set to make the formal announcement of his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination at Kenner's Pontchartrain Center, his team announced the news on Twitter and with a strange reality TV-style video. The video appeared to be hidden camera footage of Jindal and his wife Supriya breaking the news to their three children in the backyard of the Governor's Mansion. (It was parodied that night on the Comedy Central show @Midnight as "Para-Jindal Activity.")
"Maybe if you behave, you'll get a chance to go back to Iowa," Jindal told his children in the video. "You like Iowa, don't you?" Supriya asked cheerfully.
With all the governor's travels to Iowa over the last year, the Jindals certainly have had a chance to get to know the Hawkeye State, which holds the nation's first presidential caucus. The frequently globetrotting governor — now a candidate — wasted no time hitting the hustings; soon after his rally in Kenner (and a satellite interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity), a blue-light flashing motorcade whisked him off to Louis Armstrong/New Orleans International Airport. Destination: New Hampshire.
Though the "Geaux Bobby" logo on the invitations to his announcement featured the words "New Orleans" and a silhouette of the city's skyline, Jindal's rally was held in more Republican-friendly Jefferson Parish, about a 25-minute drive from downtown New Orleans. That may have discouraged some who had planned to protest — an ad hoc Facebook group organized to protest outside the rally had more than 3,600 RSVPs, but only about 150 people showed up to wave signs and yell at passing cars from the Lake Pontchartrain levee across the street from the Pontchartrain Center.
Inside, a crowd that organizers estimated at 1,500 picked up "Geaux Bobby" signs and American flags at the door. The room was dominated by a giant American flag in front of which the candidate would speak. (Some who had RSVP'd for the event and received tickets reported getting cancellation notices just hours before Jindal was set to speak.) In the crowd: Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere Jr., the Audubon Institute's Ron Forman and Stephen Waguespack, head of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (who crossed swords with Jindal this spring over the governor's denunciation of "corporate welfare"). Also attending were state Sens. A.G. Crowe of Slidell and Mike Walsworth of West Monroe, as well as Tea Party favorites state Rep. Lenar Whitney of Houma and Col. Rob Maness, the failed U.S. Senate candidate from Madisonville who formed the conservative Gator PAC last year.
For all the pomp, the program was brief — under an hour, with no live music and no surprise guests. (No one was there from the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty, with whom Jindal is fond of being photographed, but several Robertsons praised Jindal's candidacy on TV the next day.) The Rev. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, one of Jindal's staunchest Louisiana allies, gave the invocation. After the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner, former New Orleans Saints great Archie Manning and former Gov. Mike Foster provided a welcome and words of praise for Jindal on tape. "Bobby was definitely a game-changer for Louisiana," Manning said.
Supriya Jindal told the audience she admired her husband not just because he's "smart" or "good-lookin'," but because he's "fearless." She cited his leadership after Hurricane Katrina and what she reiterated was his "fearlessness" in cutting taxes.
Jindal took the stage to Garth Brooks' "Callin' Baton Rouge" and described what he saw as a downtrodden Louisiana when he took office in 2008, less than three years after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods. "We had to believe in Louisiana again, and that's exactly what we did," Jindal said. He took credit for reforming the state's ethics laws and said, "I'm guilty as charged and the state is better off today" in response to what he claimed was opposition from "the big government crowd." He criticized Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, and said Democrats define success in terms of prosperity in government, while Republicans define success in terms of prosperity in people.
"There are a lot of great talkers run- ning for president," Jindal said. "The guy in the White House is a great talker. We've had plenty of great talkers. It's time for a doer." He advocated shrinking the federal budget, "securing our borders," and got his biggest cheers when he referred to "repealing Obamacare." A day later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) federal tax credits, which make health care more affordable and thus should cut down the number of uninsured. The ruling keeps in place affordable health insurance for millions of people in the 34 states, including Louisiana, that declined to set up state health insurance exchanges. (Oddly, during his speech, Jindal didn't mention his recent executive order attempting to establish "religious freedom" in Louisiana. He made it a priority in the recent legislative session, but a 10-2 bipartisan vote in committee killed the so-called Marriage and Conscience Act.)
"I will never lead from behind," he pledged. "I know some people believe I talk about my faith too much. But I will not be silenced!" Jindal added, getting an ovation from the crowd. "I will not be silenced to meet 'their' expectations of political correctness!" He took his usual swipes at the media and also got huge cheers for saying immigrants needed "to learn English, roll up your sleeves and get to work."
The Louisiana Democratic Party (LDP) wasted no time lambasting the governor's ambitions.
"As a late entrant to an extraordinarily crowded field, Jindal carries the baggage of his dismal record of failure as governor and polling numbers hovering in the low 0% range," the LDP wrote in a press release. "The vanity campaign he formally kicked off in Kenner can be expected to have no actual impact on the 2016 race for president."
In a statement, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said: "Governor Jindal has failed Louisiana in every way possible, and there's no reason to believe he will have any more success as a candidate than he did as governor. His record of failure disqualifies him from higher office right out of the gate, and his pattern of divisiveness and cynical, partisan manipulation is likely to make for a short campaign."
Meanwhile, on the Lake Pontchartrain levee, protesters gathered on a blazing hot afternoon for "Neaux Bobby," their own counterpoint to the "Geaux Bobby" campaign. They lampooned Jindal on signs both serious and satirical, G-rated and X-rated. Some wore stickers from the New Orleans T-shirt company Dirty Coast that urged people to "Pray the B.J. Away." Members of the Krewe du Vieux's Krewe of SPANK had other amusing and even more explicit "BJ" stickers.
Other participants carried signs critical of Jindal's rejection of federal funds under the ACA and chastised him for his positions on solar energy, the film industry, health care and LGBT rights. As cars passed by, the protesters chanted "You are the one percent!" and "Jindal gives Christianity a bad name!"
"It's my state, and this guy is leaving it in a whole mess," Ed Vail said with a laugh while holding an Alfred E. Neuman-themed Jindal sign. "I want to warn the country."
Mo Hustad, who held a rainbow-colored stegosaurus, drove from Baton Rouge to attend the protest. Hustad said she was frustrated with the state's lack of mental health resources and funding for education. "He can try [to run for president], but I think it's fruitless," she said.
Christopher Williams, who posted the event on Facebook and had nearly 4,000 people click "attending," said he was thrilled with the turnout (about 150 people), despite it being much smaller than the RSVP list. "When I saw [Jindal] was going to have his event in New Orleans, I got so mad about that I said, 'Well, we need to show him how we feel about him in New Orleans,'" Williams said. "I'm excited to see so many people here, and such a diverse crowd. ... He's the one person to get this state together and rally with one voice to say, 'No Jindal.'"
With his announcement, Jindal becomes the 13th candidate in a field of GOP contenders that includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Dr. Ben Carson; U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida; former Governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, George Pataki of New York and Rick Perry of Texas; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; businesswoman Carly Fiorina; and businessman/TV personality Donald Trump.
Virtually every early poll of GOP voters has Jindal trailing all of the announced candidates — and sometimes one or two who have not announced, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is scheduled to announce this week.
The first Republican primary debate will be held in Cleveland Thursday, Aug. 6, at 8 p.m. Central Standard Time and broadcast on Fox News. Only the top 10 candidates in recent polls will be included. At this point, that would exclude Jindal, who is polling between 0 and 1 percent in most national polls.
— Charles Cody Siler contributed to this report.