Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced on his website that he has officially joined the 2016 presidential race, in a long-shot campaign for the Republican nomination that rests on courtship of evangelical voters and his reputation as a man of ideas.
The 44-year-old, two-term governor begins without the national prominence of rivals such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who are among a dozen contenders for the nomination in a highly competitive pack.
But Jindal, an Oxford-educated son of Indian immigrants, points to a long political career filled with many unexpected achievements. He talked a governor into appointing him health secretary at age 24 with little background in either health management or government, won election to Congress at 32 and became governor four years later.
"If I were to become a candidate, I would certainly run to win and I would do it based on presenting detailed ideas about how to move our country forward," Jindal told reporters recently.
His campaign launch kicked off Wednesday, with Jindal naming Timmy Teepell as his campaign manager. Teepell says Jindal will continue to court evangelical voters and focus on his reputation as an ideas man.
Unpopular at home, the Louisiana governor waited until the state legislative session had ended and lawmakers found a way to close a $1.6 billion budget gap before scheduling the announcement. But he has been building his campaign for months with frequent trips to key presidential voting states, particularly Iowa, where he's focused heavily on Christian conservatives.
Raised a Hindu but a convert to Catholicism as a teenager, Jindal has talked of his religious faith in small churches across Louisiana. As he readied his presidential campaign, the governor held a prayer rally in Baton Rouge, met pastors across several states and put out an executive order to grant special "religious freedom" protections to people in Louisiana who oppose same-sex marriage.
He's competing, however, with several contenders trying to appeal to the same pool of evangelical voters, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
As he approached his announcement, Jindal also showcased more of the policy wonk reputation that got him elected governor, rather than focusing solely on the culture wars.
He's drawn distinctions from other GOP contenders by noting he's published "detailed plans" on health care, defense, education and energy policy. He's suggested governors are better equipped to become president because they have run state bureaucracies, balanced budgets and implemented policy. That's an argument, however, that other White House hopefuls are making or can: Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, as well as Bush.
"We need somebody who will go to D.C. and rescue the American Dream from becoming the European nightmare," Jindal says.
All told, a path to victory remains difficult for Jindal. GOP debates begin in August and it's unclear if he will make the cut if based on standing in national polls.
What is certain is that the term-limited governor has worn out his welcome back home as his tenure approaches its end in January.
Jindal's approval ratings in Louisiana have dropped into the low 30s due to repeated budget cuts to public colleges, near-constant state financial problems and a sense that he's crafted state policy based on his national political ambitions.
The governor dismisses the low state poll numbers as a sign he's tackled difficult problems, with large shifts in education policy, dramatic reductions to the public sector workforce and the right-sizing of government.
"Making changes is tough," he said in a recent interview. "It's easy to be a popular politician. If you want to be a popular politician, you kiss babies, you cut ribbons, you don't make tough choices. That's not what I got elected to do."
The Associated Press