Republicans Need Louisiana, but Jindal Is Keeping a Low Profile

The 2016 presidential hopeful has kept quiet in his home state amid a national campaign blitz.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks on the topic of 'Rebuilding American Defense' at the American Enterprise Institute October 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. Jindal has continually advocated for more defense spending and has criticized the current administration for cutting the size and capabilities of our armed forces. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Oct. 22, 2014, 3:58 p.m.

Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal’s pre-2016 tour isn’t lim­ited to early-primary states such as Iowa and New Hamp­shire. The wonky gov­ernor is leav­ing his mark in 2014’s hot spots, mak­ing stops the midterm battle­ground states where Re­pub­lic­an vic­tor­ies could trans­late in­to a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. And all along the way, Jin­dal is col­lect­ing chits he can cash in next year when many ex­pect he will an­nounce a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

But there’s one top Sen­ate race where Jin­dal is con­spicu­ously ab­sent: in his home state of Louisi­ana.

Jin­dal has traveled to Arkan­sas, Iowa, and North Car­o­lina to raise money for top Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate re­cruits; made trips to Con­necti­c­ut, New Hamp­shire, and New York to sup­port up­start GOP gubernat­ori­al nom­in­ees; and thrown his back­ing be­hind Rep. James Lank­ford’s Sen­ate bid in Ok­lahoma and Sen. Jerry Mor­an’s reelec­tion cam­paign in Kan­sas, among oth­ers.

But Jin­dal has not en­dorsed, cam­paigned for, or donated a single dol­lar to Louisi­ana’s Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, the party’s lead­ing can­did­ate to take on vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mary Landrieu in the state’s all-party primary in Novem­ber. Even on so­cial me­dia, Jin­dal rarely dis­cusses the Sen­ate race. He has not men­tioned Landrieu at all since May and has name-checked Cas­sidy ex­actly zero times in 2014.

Con­trol of the Sen­ate, which Jin­dal has made a cent­ral ar­gu­ment in sev­er­al en­dorse­ments for oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates, could hinge on the res­ults of the already close Cas­sidy-Landrieu battle. The cur­rent battle for Sen­ate con­trol is tight and if neither can­did­ate in Louisi­ana re­ceives 50 per­cent of the vote in Novem­ber—neither has reached that mark in any pub­lic polling this year—the two will face off in a bloody run­off elec­tion in Decem­ber. That could mean that sen­at­ors will re­turn to Wash­ing­ton in mid-Novem­ber with no idea which party has won the ma­jor­ity.

Re­cent polling shows Landrieu and Cas­sidy in a tight race, with a second Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate, Rob Maness, trail­ing far be­hind them. But Maness’s in­clu­sion in the race only makes it more likely that the two can­did­ates will head to a run­off. And both parties, but par­tic­u­larly Re­pub­lic­ans, are stock­pil­ing funds to en­sure vic­tory in that single-month cam­paign.

In such a tight race, any little bit helps. And sev­er­al mem­bers of the Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an del­eg­a­tion, most not­ably Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, have been cam­paign­ing hard for Cas­sidy to put him over the top. Their pres­ence on the cam­paign trail only makes Jin­dal’s ab­sence more pro­nounced.

So why is Jin­dal steer­ing clear?

Pub­licly, Jin­dal’s camp is not­ing that there are mul­tiple Re­pub­lic­ans still in the run­ning, and Jin­dal spokes­man Mike Reed says his boss doesn’t want to enter that fray.

“We are com­mit­ted to de­feat­ing Mary Landrieu. She is a rub­ber stamp for Pres­id­ent Obama’s agenda and that is bad for Louisi­ana and bad for the coun­try,” Reed said in a state­ment. “What a lot of folks don’t real­ize, es­pe­cially D.C. folks, is that Louisi­ana is dif­fer­ent. While the rest of the coun­try is en­gaged in gen­er­al elec­tions, we are still in our primar­ies. There are mul­tiple Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning. We don’t see a need to weigh in between Re­pub­lic­ans right now.”

Louisi­ana does not se­lect Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ees. Rather, the state par­ti­cip­ates in a “jungle primary” in which can­did­ates of all parties com­pete to­geth­er in a single primary on Elec­tion Day.

But not all Re­pub­lic­ans have mirrored Jin­dal’s hands-off ap­proach: The state Re­pub­lic­an Party and the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, both of which typ­ic­ally avoid get­ting in­volved in in­tra-party fights, have backed Cas­sidy. Dozens of sit­ting Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors and con­gress­men have also got­ten in on the act, donat­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to Cas­sidy’s cam­paign.

And Jin­dal him­self has taken sides in the past. Two years ago, Jin­dal did weigh in­to at least two loc­al con­tests between two Re­pub­lic­ans. The gov­ernor en­dorsed cur­rent At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Buddy Cald­well for reelec­tion over former Rep. Joseph Cao and also took sides in a Re­pub­lic­an-on-Re­pub­lic­an con­test for a state Board of Edu­ca­tion seat.

At the same time, Re­pub­lic­an ob­serv­ers say, Cas­sidy may not even want Jin­dal’s help.

As Landrieu’s cam­paign loves to re­mind re­port­ers and voters, Jin­dal’s ap­prov­al rat­ing has dropped pre­cip­it­ously in re­cent years. A re­cent Pub­lic Policy Polling sur­vey showed that just 34 per­cent of Louisi­anans ap­prove of the job Jin­dal is do­ing, while 55 per­cent dis­ap­prove. That’s worse than Obama’s rat­ings in the same poll, where 39 per­cent of state res­id­ents ap­prove of the job the pres­id­ent is do­ing and 56 per­cent dis­ap­prove. An­oth­er sur­vey, from Louisi­ana-based South­ern Me­dia & Opin­ion Re­search back in May, showed Jin­dal with a 48 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing and a 51 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al rat­ing.

“I think loc­ally, if you’re look­ing at it, the best thing Bobby Jin­dal can do for Bill Cas­sidy is stay away. And that’s just be­cause his ap­prov­al rat­ings are so low. I mean, he’s really kind of be­come—I don’t know if tox­ic is the right word, but I mean, he’s not pop­u­lar and his sup­port I don’t think helps Cas­sidy,” an aide to a mem­ber of the Louisi­ana del­eg­a­tion said.

Cas­sidy’s cam­paign did not re­spond to mul­tiple re­quests for com­ment on this story.

Ap­pear­ances with the un­loved gov could hurt Cas­sidy with swing voters as well—the very people that the Cas­sidy cam­paign is work­ing to turn out in Novem­ber, the aide ar­gued.

“[If you look at] his re­cord of sup­port­ing all these can­did­ates in all these oth­er states in com­pet­it­ive races, but he’s not in­volved in the race in his own home state? I mean, I don’t think it makes sense un­less you really take in­to ac­count that he’s just not that pop­u­lar here. I’m sure he would like to help however pos­sible, but I think there’s just been a cal­cu­la­tion there that the best way to help is to not be present,” the aide said.

But, a long­time Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an poll­ster ad­ded, Jin­dal’s num­bers are still strong on the far right, “par­tic­u­larly so­cial con­ser­vat­ives,” he said. “That’s already in the bag for Cas­sidy. So I guess he made the cal­cu­la­tion that ‘I might hurt Cas­sidy if I ven­ture out there and muddy up the middle.’ “

Jin­dal’s early pres­id­en­tial cam­paign­ing hasn’t helped much either. Jin­dal’s ap­par­ent fond­ness for fried but­ter at the Iowa State Fair and the crisp fall leaves of New Hamp­shire have be­come com­mon jokes among Louisi­ana’s polit­ic­al class. A re­cent fa­vor­ite, the aide told Na­tion­al Journ­al, was a joke Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Vance Mc­Al­lister told at the state’s an­nu­al Le­gis-Gat­or Lunch­eon in Au­gust.

Mc­Al­lister told the Le­gis-Gat­or crowd that he had driv­en from Bat­on Rouge along In­ter­state 10 to the Lake Charles event that morn­ing and had stopped out­side a small Louisi­ana town called Iowa [pro­nounced eye-oh-way] and got­ten out of his car, look­ing for Jin­dal. (Re­la­tions between Mc­Al­lister and Jin­dal have been chilly since the gov­ernor called for his resig­na­tion this year.)

The vast ma­jor­ity of Jin­dal’s me­dia ap­pear­ances, press re­leases, and so­cial me­dia are na­tion­ally fo­cused, de­voted largely to com­bat­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and fo­cus­ing in par­tic­u­lar on the re­cent Ebola out­break, Jin­dal’s op­pos­i­tion to Com­mon Core, and the Af­ford­able Care Act. He even wrote an op-ed cri­ti­ciz­ing New York City May­or Bill DeBla­sio’s eco­nom­ic policies.

“I think na­tion­ally it would help him if it looked like he did something in the Sen­ate race,” the poll­ster said. “But mean­while, he’s been so busy run­ning for pres­id­ent that his num­bers in the state have de­clined so much … he doesn’t want to be do­ing something that’s seen as hurt­ing the race.”

“I don’t have any­thing to sub­stan­ti­ate it, but I would guess that Cas­sidy’s folks had asked him to kinda let them do their own thing,” the aide said.

So what would it take to get Jin­dal to jump in?

Reed, the gov­ernor’s spokes­man, said Jin­dal could get more in­volved in the cur­rent Cas­sidy-Landrieu race if the Demo­crat be­gins to leap ahead in the polls. “If it looks like Mary Landrieu is get­ting close to win­ning this elec­tion without a run­off, we will en­gage to make sure she doesn’t,” he said.

Landrieu has tried to tie the un­pop­u­lar Jin­dal to Cas­sidy, fol­low­ing a sim­il­ar play­book to the one Re­pub­lic­ans have used to tie her to Obama. Landrieu has re­peatedly sought to tie Cas­sidy to the $700 mil­lion in high­er edu­ca­tion cuts the state has seen since Jin­dal took of­fice. And, in a re­cent de­bate, Landrieu warned that Cas­sidy, like Jin­dal, would be just an­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an who says “no.”

In the same de­bate, when asked to rate Jin­dal on a scale of one to 10 in that same de­bate, Cas­sidy ini­tially re­fused be­fore giv­ing him a sev­en—the same grade Landrieu gave to Obama.

Hav­ing Jin­dal on the trail along­side Cas­sidy could provide Landrieu’s cam­paign with a more sol­id found­a­tion to tie the two to­geth­er. It’s un­clear wheth­er Jin­dal will ap­pear on the cam­paign trail with Cas­sidy dur­ing the run­off peri­od, but Reed noted that the gov­ernor will sup­port the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate. “We look for­ward to sup­port­ing the Re­pub­lic­an in the run­off and de­feat­ing Mary Landrieu,” he said.

That last-minute sup­port may not be worth the risk for the Cas­sidy, the GOP poll­ster said. “At this point, I’m so con­vinced that Mary can’t win that in my opin­ion it’s not worth the cal­cu­lated risk. I mean Cas­sidy could do this on its own just on the sheer fact that Mary’s so un­pop­u­lar with white voters.”

Asked if a Jin­dal ap­pear­ance could drag Cas­sidy down, he ad­ded: “Yes, it could. It could. I don’t know that it will, but just the fact that it could would be one reas­on I would say, let’s not go there.”

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