Jindal: The forgotten 2016 candidate?

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to be the ideas man in the GOP’s shadow presidential campaign.

The Republican spent Wednesday touting his newly released proposal to replace ObamaCare with a series of healthcare reforms more dependent on the states and the private sector. He plans to roll out similar, broad-based policy papers on energy and education in the coming months as he tests the waters for a 2016 presidential bid.

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The quiet policy wonk has been overshadowed by some of the more bombastic potential White House contenders. But the governor and former Health and Human Services assistant secretary is looking to show voters — and especially donors — that he has the vision and know-how to lead the party and the country in a positive direction.

“You can’t be the party of no. We have to be the party of solutions. I think we’ve got to go out there and win the war of ideas,” Jindal told reporters Wednesday morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

“I think there are too many Republicans in this town thinking that we can just run against ObamaCare; we shouldn’t say anything else more specific until November because that’s a winning strategy,” he continued. “I think that’s wrong. If we want to earn the right to be in the majority, we have to offer specific ideas.”

“It’s very tempting to want to talk in bumper stickers,” Jindal added.  “The American people deserve a better debate than that.”

He argued his healthcare plan is the first GOP outline to tackle the issue in an across-the-board manner, though the plan bears a resemblance to others Republicans have advocated for over the years, including former presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“This is the first time you’re seeing a comprehensive plan that has Medicare reforms, Medicaid reforms,” he said.

The breakfast coincided with a Fox News op-ed detailing the 26-page plan. Jindal has also been working the donor circuit hard, meeting with former Romney bundlers and other major power players.

Jindal is re-emerging on the D.C. stage as the governor, who will leave office at the end of 2015, seeks to recreate the excitement that once surrounded a possible White House run.

Early in President Obama’s tenure, Jindal generated significant buzz about potentially being a tough challenger to Obama or a vice presidential pick.

His profile as an Indian-American son of immigrants and conservative reformer in a state once dominated by Democrats made Jindal attractive to many in the GOP. But his star quickly faded in 2009 after a poorly received State of the Union response speech, and he’s spent the following years looking to rebuild. Jindal has consistently polled in the low single digits in early GOP presidential tests.

The GOP’s donor class remains furious at the party’s right flank for the government shutdown and other Tea Party battles and is looking for positive leadership, say strategists. With no clear front-runner to be the establishment Republican candidate following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s slide in the polls, Jindal’s wonky approach could pay dividends.

“One thing that’s interesting about Republican donors right now is they are really hungry for someone they feel like is going to be very forward-looking and very policy oriented. There’s no question about that,” Jindal adviser Curt Anderson told The Hill.
Republican strategists say Jindal has emerged as a respected thought leader in the party, but it’s unclear how well his skill at retail politics will match up against the rest of the potential GOP field.

“He is so strong on the issues. He is articulate and he is a serious thinker and not afraid to lead on his ideas for how to make American families have a better life,” Republican strategist Henry Barbour said.

“This is going to be a cycle for an outsider to change Washington and renew the economy. And I think he’s got as good credentials as any, and is the brightest bulb on the tree, frankly. If you ask who the other candidates would least like to debate, Bobby Jindal is probably at the top of the list,” GOP strategist Alex Castellanos said.

But while strategists say he’s come a long way in his retail politics, both in working a room and in delivering speeches, many believe he still lacks the natural charisma of some of the other potential candidates.

“Bobby Jindal clearly is the smart Republican’s candidate at this moment, I think,” Castellanos said. “The question is whether he can appeal to the heart the way he does to the mind.”