Monday, November 24, 2008

GOP in 2012: Bobby Jindal takes first test in Iowa

WEST DES MOINES — Louisiana’s 37-year-old Republican governor, already in short-list territory as a potential presidential candidate for 2012, made what could be considered an initial foray into Iowa with a keynote speech Saturday in Des Moines on cultural values to one of the Hawkeye State’s major Christian conservative organizations.

Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar whose meteoric rise through Louisiana politics has national party leaders eyeing him as Oval Office material, told the Carroll Daily Times Herald there are more important matters to think about than speculation about his prospects as a leader of a resurrected Republican Party.

He has a big job as governor of Louisiana, Jindal said politely, in a brief exchange.

But there was no doubting that Iowa Republicans Saturday were taking the measure of the Louisianan as they begin an inter-party debate to define the GOP brand for a generation. Will they go for the emotional appeal of a Sarah Palin or seek more intellectual ballast with the policy-rich mind of a Jindal?

Early in a speech to an audience of 800 at an Iowa Family Policy Center dinner in West Des Moines’ Sheraton Hotel Jindal, who had been in eastern Iowa earlier in the day to tour flooded area, said simply “enough is enough” with the presidential handicapping for 2012.

That said, State Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, sees Jindal as being able to effectively to bridge social conservatives and the more economically main street Republicans.

Upmeyer said she thinks Jindal would do well in Iowa in 2012, should he run, noting that he’s clearly articulate and passionate.

Additionally, Upmeyer, who considers herself a social conservative, said Jindal passed something of a first-impression gut or smell test with conservatives, that they see him as one of them.

“I think he did,” she said.

A reporter from the New Orleans Times-Picayune followed Jindal to Iowa and wrote a story for the Sunday edition of that paper examining the governor’s potential as a future GOP presidential candidate in Iowa.

A graduate of Brown University who later went to Oxford, England on a Rhodes Scholarship, Jindal at age 24 was appointed as Louisiana’s secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. In 2004, Jindal, a second-generation Indian American, who is Catholic, was elected to Congress, and then became governor in 2007.

In the speech Jindal said that Democrats overreach if they see a mandate in the election of Barack Obama as president.

The nation didn’t suddenly veer to the left, he said.

“We’re still a center-right country,” Jindal said.

Voters quite directly rejected Republicans on management — not philosophy or ideology, he added.

“They fired us with cause,” Jindal said. “Let’s be honest.”

Jindal quickly moved from politics to the meat of his speech, addressing American culture.

His speech focused heavily on efforts in Louisiana to deal with sex offenders.
Jindal strongly supports the death penalty for sex offenders whose victims are children. The governor also has backed legislation to lengthen sentences for sex offenders.

On the same day last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute a child rapist if the victim isn’t killed, striking down a Louisiana decision, a furious Jindal signed a law mandating castration of certain second-time sex offenders.

“If you intend to harm a child you better stay out of the State of Louisiana,” Jindal said.

He said those who find comfort in computer maps showing the places sex offenders live are missing the point.

“I’d be much more impressed to find out they are all in one — the state penitentiary,” Jindal said.

Moving to the economy, Jindal said the current economic crisis has cultural and moral roots as the housing and stock market freefalls are in large part the result of “unchecked avarice.”

In his speech, Jindal also showed the ability to effectively use the humorous anecdote. Following Hurricane Katrina, Jindal’s 3-year-old daughter asked him before bed one night, why, when she prayed to God to protect the state from the wrath of the weather, did so many people die?

“I said, ‘Sweetheart, go back to sleep. When you wake up, ask mommy. She knows everything,’” Jindal said.

Adam Freed, an Urbandale attorney, said he left the event with a favorable impression of Jindal.

“I thought he gave a very compelling speech,” Freed said. “I thought he definitely hit all the issues I agree on right on the head.”

Freed said Jindal’s focus on culture was key.

“I think a lot of times in the secular culture we just kind of forget about the fact that we need the cultural underpinning to make our system work,” Freed said. “We need to have consistent values that everybody agrees with.”

Hazel Anderson, a homemaker in Altoona and a New Orleans native, said Jindal connected with the audience when talking about protecting children from crime.

“I thought it was wonderful because the children are the future leaders,” she said.
Anderson said Jindal reached the GOP activists who will be vital in determining which candidate emerges from Iowa in 2012.

“I think he said good things for this audience,” Anderson said.

UPDATE: Eastern Iowa blogger John Deeth -- my old colleague at Iowa Independent -- covered the Jindal event in Cedar Rapids earlier in the day and had some thoughtful takes.

Photo: Louisiana Gov Bobby Jindal, a Republican, spoke to about 800 people at an Iowa Family Policy Center dinner on Saturday in Des Moines. The socially conservative organization is a major force in Iowa Republican politics, and Jindal is already being talked about as a possible presidential candidate in 2012.

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