Weighing 2016 bid, Jindal to meet with pastors in Iowa

Melinda Deslatte
Associated Press

Baton Rouge, La. — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal returns to Iowa on Tuesday to meet with local pastors and again look for support among Christian evangelicals for a possible White House campaign.

The stated reason for Jindal’s trip is to talk about his headlining appearance later this month at a prayer rally that is expected to draw thousands of people to Baton Rouge, and to discuss ways to mount a similar event in Iowa.

“These are a group of Christian men and women very interested in spiritual revival, very interested in prayer,” Jindal said in a Monday interview with The Associated Press.

But the private meetings with Christian religious leaders in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines also come as Jindal courts religious conservatives across the country ahead of the 2016 campaign.

Tuesday’s trip to first-to-vote Iowa will be his fifth since June. In recent months, Jindal has also spoken to pastors in New Hampshire, at a gathering of faith leaders and conservative activists in Washington, and in Oklahoma at an event promoting a Bible museum planned by owners of Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby.

“I’m happy to go anywhere, anytime to talk about Jesus,” Jindal said.

That includes headlining a prayer rally later this month called The Response on the campus of Louisiana State University. Outgoing Texas Gov. Rick Perry headlined a similar prayer event in 2011 days before launching his White House bid.

Critics have urged the university to scrap the event, arguing the rally is designed to further Jindal’s presidential ambitions — an argument he rejects. “The Response is a prayer event,” he said. “It is a spiritual event. It is not a political event.”

Jindal’s push among religious conservatives comes as he tries to define his political brand and stand out in a crowded field of early potential candidates for the Republican nomination.

The two-term governor has aggressively promoted religious freedom in recent months, but he also has cast himself as an economic conservative and a pragmatist, famously calling on the GOP to stop acting like “the stupid party” after the 2012 election.

Yet so far, party leaders and key donors have been slow to embrace his well-known national ambitions.

A Catholic convert raised by Hindu parents, Jindal has fostered relationships with religious conservatives since taking office in 2008. He opposes abortion and gay marriage, and pushed for the creation of a voucher program in Louisiana that uses tax dollars to pay for children to attend religious schools.

Backing from religious conservatives alone in recent presidential elections hasn’t led a candidate to the GOP nomination. Neither former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 nor former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum three years ago was able to turn solid bases of support among conservative Christians into ultimately winning campaigns.

Jindal said Monday he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run for president, repeating his oft-used line that he’ll make a decision in the next few months after prayer and conversation with his family. He said the number of candidates likely to be seeking support from the Christian conservative base — Huckabee, Santorum and Perry among them — won’t enter into his decision.

“I think the more choices for the voters, the better,” he said. “I’ve never decided to get in or not get into a race based on who else is running.”

“If I decide to run,” he said, “it’s going to be based on whether I think I’ve got something unique to offer.”