Several months ago, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was the hot ticket in the Republican Party. Unfortunately, he bombed when giving the GOP response to President Obama’s address to Congress in February. Now, he is registering at the bottom of the pack among potential GOP presidential hopefuls. At the recent Values Voters Summit hosted by the Family Research Council in Washington D.C., Jindal finished seventh with only 5% of the vote.
With such lackluster results, Jindal is revamping his strategy. In a recent interview with Politico, Jindal recommended that Republicans work with President Obama to find compromise on the issue of health care reform. He advised that Republicans approach the President and say, “We’re willing to work with you in a bipartisan way.”
The offer to compromise is quite a different approach from the one that Jindal has exhibited in recent Fox News interviews. He is also pursuing a different strategy from many Republicans who seem more interested in stopping any kind of health care bill.
In the same Politico interview, the Governor refused to endorse incumbent Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter for re-election. Even though Jindal headlined a Vitter fundraiser several months ago, he did not offer any kind of support for the Senator in the interview. This stance will not endear Jindal to conservatives in the Republican Party, who have rallied around Vitter in recent months.
While Jindal has been tending to other business or traveling to fundraisers in other states, Vitter has been conducting 22 town hall meetings on the health care issue. While Jindal has been silent on the tea party movement, Vitter has been vocally supporting the local groups and leading the charge. Whether it is the issue of Obama cabinet members or the President’s liberal agenda, Vitter has been in strong opposition. In contrast, Jindal has been taking a much lower profile position.
Despite his coyness, it is hard to imagine Jindal endorsing Vitter’s opponent, Democrat Congressman Charlie Melancon, who supports the policies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama. His position may reflect more of a personality conflict as opposed to a political one; nonetheless, his stance is perplexing.
While he would be grateful for Jindal’s endorsement, it is clear that Vitter does not need Jindal’s support to win re-election. Recent polls show him with a double digit lead over Melancon, who is hurt by his party ties to the unpopular President Obama, who registers anemic support in Louisiana. According to the latest Southern Media and Opinion Research poll, Obama only enjoys the approval of 44% of the voters in Louisiana.
In the Politico interview, Jindal noted that his focus is not on the presidency, but on running for re-election in 2011. However, Jindal should not assume that he will receive a free ride in the next election. Jindal’s poll numbers are decent, but not particularly impressive. In the same Southern Media and Opinion Research poll, Jindal has a 64% approval rating, which is higher than 57% approval he received in the Public Policy Polling survey in the summer. Both results show that Louisiana voters are generally supportive of Bobby Jindal, but that he is not unbeatable.
Last week, Jindal returned from another out-of-state fundraising excursion. His extensive travel has attracted criticism from political opponents who believe that the Governor should reimburse the taxpayers for the traveling costs of his security detail. In addition, Jindal has been labeled a hypocrite on the issue of the stimulus bill. After criticizing the legislation, the Governor not only accepted the federal money, he then traveled the state distributing stimulus checks to local communities.
If Jindal has weak poll numbers in 2011, he may face competition from either Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu or State Treasurer John Kennedy. In recent weeks, Kennedy has taken the lead on the important issue of streamlining government and has acted more like a Governor than Jindal. He is conducting media interviews each day and offering concrete ideas on how to save taxpayer money. One of Kennedy’s proposals is to refurbish Charity Hospital instead of building an expensive new LSU teaching hospital. Again, Jindal has been largely absent from the political debate on the issue of streamlining state government or determining the future of health care in New Orleans. If Jindal had shown leadership, he could have resolved the hospital conflict months ago.
While Kennedy has been leading on the state level and Vitter has been leading on the national level, Jindal figured it was time to return to the political stage. Yet, his message of health care compromise will not endear him to conservative voters in Louisiana or to Republican activists nationwide. A large majority of Republicans want to defeat the President’s health care plan, not compromise with him. Clearly, Jindal has his eyes on the White House, but his position on health care will not help him reach his goal.