BATON ROUGE, La. - Gov. Bobby Jindal, touted as a rising star of the Republican Party with presidential possibilities, faces deepening troubles in his home state of Louisiana, even as he dispenses advice on how his divided party can regroup after its election drubbing last year.
Recent polls suggest that Jindal's once-formidable job performance rating has fallen below 50 per cent just over a year after he was re-elected without serious opposition.
"He's got a large number of people in Louisiana who just do not like him," said Baton Rouge-based pollster Bernie Pinsonat, not usually a Jindal critic.
While Jindal delighted conservative policy wonks nationally with his signature measures overhauling education and public employee pensions in Louisiana, those laws are tied up in state court as Republican judges claim constitutional concerns.
The question isn't necessarily how Jindal's circumstances affect him inside his own Republican Party, where he remains popular among vocal conservatives. And Jindal will have national media exposure as the new head of the Republican Governors Association.
But any governor hoping to build a national platform must find a way to frame his political approach for a broader audience.
The challenge for the Republican Party, which lost what it saw as a winnable presidential election in November and failed to regain control of the U.S. Senate, is to find standard bearers who satisfy the Republican base, while widening it, too.
One reason Republicans lost last year was their reliance on a shrinking white male conservative constituency, as women, young voters, minorities and immigrants sided with the Democrats.
Born as Piyush Jindal in Baton Rouge to Indian immigrant parents, "Bobby" Jindal is one of few plausible conservative Republican who isn't saddled with the "white male Republican" image.
But to be credible nationally, he will have to be popular in his home state.
The first ingredient, Pinsonat said, is having your own people call you a success, adding: "If I'm from another state and the guy's not popular in his home state, no matter what he says after that, I don't know if you hear the rest of it."
Barred by Louisiana law from seeking re-election, Jindal's second term ends January 2016, neatly dovetailing with the first in a long series of party votes to select a nominee for the 2016 presidential cycle.
In the wake of Mitt Romney's competitive-but-decisive loss to President Barack Obama in November, Jindal has been at the forefront of delivering sharp criticism to the Republican Party.
He has bemoaned "dumbed-down conservatism." He has argued that the Republican Party is a "populist" organization and that Republicans shouldn't be the party of "big anything." And he has said that the Republicans should "stop being the stupid party." It was a response to Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, the failed Senate candidates whose controversial comments about rape and abortion helped Democrats win seats once viewed as guarantee Republican victories.
Jindal also has been clear that Republicans must not "change what we believe" and he has suggested the party hasn't gone big enough in its argument against active government. "It's time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system," he has said.
At first blush, Jindal's Louisiana priorities fit neatly within his party roadmap.
He's pushing to eliminate all corporate and personal income taxes, in favour of sales tax increases. He's refused to expand the Medicaid federal health insurance for the poor under Obama's health-care overhaul, and he's dismantling the state's unique public hospital system. He has privatized parts of the Medicaid program for the poor along with state workers' health-care plan.
He has dramatically cut the number of state workers, mostly by issuing contracts to pay private firms to do the same work.
For all his criticism of a big federal government, Jindal has approved its excess and accepted its bounty. When he was a congressman, he supported deficit budgets under President George W. Bush. Jindal, like every other governor, used U.S. stimulus money — provided through an Obama law that Jindal assailed — to balance his state budget for at least two years and, in many instances, he travelled to small towns to hand out checks to local government leaders, while sidestepping the explanation that the dollars came from federal coffers.
Despite the many program cuts as Jindal has pushed in Louisiana, he's feuded with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature who say he's not done enough.
Jindal's state government helped spend billions of dollars in federal rebuilding aid after multiple hurricanes, including Katrina. Louisiana just hosted the Super Bowl in a publicly owned stadium restored and upgraded with taxpayer money.
Particularly to outsiders, Jindal has styled himself as a technocrat. He has won plaudits for disaster management on hurricanes and after the BP oil spill. His command of policy details is obvious in his public appearances and, according to those with access, in private meetings.
Still, he carefully cultivates social conservatives. A Catholic convert raised by Hindu parents, Jindal has spent countless Sundays in Protestant north Louisiana sharing his personal testimony. He signed the Louisiana Science Education Act that allows science teachers to use outside curriculum, a move that Nobel laureates protest as a back-door to teach Biblical creation as science.
He has created one of America's largest school voucher programs — with a price tag of $25 million this year — that pays for children to attend religious schools that teach creationism and reject evolution.
The program weakens the power of the teachers' unions, a key source of Democratic support.
Over his five years in office, Jindal has travelled to three dozen states to collect campaign dollars, meet voters and help other Republican candidates.
As he pushes his tax overhaul, he's hired former communications aides who worked for Romney and one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Jindal has also tapped into an extensive network of Republican fundraising and consulting firms that could help launch future political campaigns and built political relationships across key presidential states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Barrow reported from Atlanta.
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