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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal opens White House bid pledging “never to lead from behind”

Jindal touts his record, says Republicans “must stop being afraid to lose”

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

louisiana mugKENNER, Louisiana (CFP) — Taking a swipe at both Democratic “socialism” and a Republican Party that he says has been “beaten into submission,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal launched his campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination by calling himself a “doer,” not a “talker.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

“There are a lot of great talkers running for president. But none of them — not one — can match our record of actually shrinking the size of government,” Jindal said in his June 24 kickoff rally in Kenner, a New Orleans suburb. “I’m not running for president to be somebody. I’m running for president to do something.”

“If you want somebody who’s just going to pretend that everything is fine, just make some small tweaks, then you want somebody else. I’ll make this promise to you. I will never lead from behind.”

Jindal, 44, is in the last year of his second term as the Pelican State’s chief executive. He touted his record as governor in his opening address, noting that he took office just two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

“Our economy was locked in a downward spiral. Our biggest city was reeling. For 25 straight years, more people had left this state than had moved into it,” he said. “Louisiana was in big trouble, so we had to make big changes.”

Among the achievements Jindal cited were education reform, particularly in New Orleans where the entire school system was converted into charter schools, and a 26 percent reduction in the state’s budget.

“It wasn’t easy. The big government crowd fought us every step of the way,” he said. “But in the end, we won.”

However, Jindal had to delay his widely anticipated presidential campaign while Louisiana’s legislature struggled to close a massive budget deficit that the governor’s critics blame on his refusal to consider tax increases to offset sharp declines in revenues from oil production.

Those budget problems have taken a toll on Jindal’s popularity, with a poll in March putting his approval rating at just 27 percent.

Jindal, a Rhodes scholar, was something of a wunderkind in Louisiana politics, becoming head of the state health department at the tender age of 24 and president of the University of Louisiana System at just 28. He was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Jindal left the Bush administration to run unsuccessfully for governor in 2003. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing a suburban New Orleans district until his election as governor in 2007.

In the opening speech of his presidential campaigns, Jindal signaled that he plans to run as an unvarnished conservative who would cut the size of government and defend religious liberty.

“Republicans must stop being afraid to lose,” he said. “If we try to hide who we are again, we will lose again.”

Jindal took a direct shot at one of his chief GOP rivals, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, by lampooning Bush’s assertion that GOP candidates “need to be willing to lose the primary in order to win the general election.”

“We’re going to help him do that,” Jindal said. “What Jeb Bush is saying is we need to hide our conservative ideals … Let’s do something new. Let’s endorse our own principles for a change. Let’s boldly speak the truth without fear.”

In recent months, Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants who converted to Roman Catholicism as a teenager, has been courting religious conservatives, particularly with his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage. In his campaign kickoff, he charged that Christianity “is under assault today in America.”

“I want to say this slowly so that even Hillary Clinton can understand this — America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America,” he said.

Jindal — whose given name is Piyush and who, if elected, would be the nation’s first Indian-American president — also lashed out at “all this talk about hyphenated Americans.”

“We are not Indian-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, rich Americans or poor Americans. We are all Americans.”

Jindal also leveled a broadside against President Obama, saying “this president and his apprentice-in-waiting, Hillary Clinton, are leading America down the path to destruction economically, culturally and internationally.”

“The simple fact is they are trying to turn the American dream into socialism.”

Jindal said his four main objectives as president would be to secure the border, replace Obamacare with a market-based health care system, cut the size of government and improve “America’s defenses.”

Jindal is one of eight Southern Republicans seeking the presidency in 2016. In addition to Bush and Jindal, the other Southern candidates are former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rick Perry of Texas and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The Southern GOP field is divided equally between senators and governors. Two of the last three Republicans elected president — George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan — served as governor, while the last GOP senator elected to the presidency was Warren Harding in 1920.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has launched an exploratory committee for the 2016 Democratic nomination — a race that’s expected to be dominated by former Secretary of State Clinton, a former first lady of Arkansas who went on to be elected to the Senate from New York.

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