What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president of the United States? Pretty good, Bobby Jindal thinks probably.
So much so he could actually joke about it, and twice in a week. He debuted it at a DC dinner last Saturday where presidents traditionally joke around with other pols and journalists.
There it was again on Friday, Jindal’s opening lines at the annual meet of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a platform for Republican stars and presidential hopefuls.
Jindal, the young Indian American governor of the state of Louisiana, is both. Don’t be fooled by his jokes. He uses them perhaps as a foil against his image of a policy wonk.
He is a serious contender for the Republican ticket for 2016.
But so are others, the emerging line-up looks something like this: Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, congressman Paul Ryan, governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell.
And the third Bush, former Florida state governor Jeb Bush, George H W Bush’s son and George W Bush’s younger brother. But he asked to be left out of the race for now.
Paul won the CPAC straw poll as the GOP candidate conservative wants to see running in 2016, Rubio was second and Jindal was way down at Number 9.
But CPAC audiences are generally young libertarians, sometimes heretically at odds with the Republican Party, much in love with the Paul family. Remember Ron Paul?
“The convention gives them a chance to start the conversation,” said Ravi Singh, a campaign consultant invited to speak at the meet. “Fundamentally show up and do the courtesy round.”
So they did. And each with a plan to pick up the party from the debris of the 2012 collapse -- Republicans lost the presidential race, the senate and conceded seats in the House.
Paul told the standing-room-only crowd, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered.” He added, “I don't think we need to name any names, do we?”
His basic message, like his libertarian father’s, remains simply this: less government. “The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere.”
Rubio, on the other hand, sold himself as a traditional Republican checking all the necessary boxes on abortion, gay marriage, but with a message to embrace the middle class.
But do not abandon core conservative values, he urged.
Jindal re-stated his criticism of the party’s obsession with balancing the budget. “We must not became the party of austerity, we must become the party of growth.”
The governor’s speech, however, was noted more for what he didn’t say. At a speech earlier in the year, he had urged Republicans to “stop being the stupid party”.
That riled some conservatives. He was more careful this time.
Though Jindal didn’t name Ryan, the ace Republican hawk on budget, his criticism of the party’s “obsession with zeroes” leaves no room for confusion about the target.
But Ryan pushed ahead in his CPAC presentation with what he does best: shred the president and senate Democrats for failing to balance the budget and address the deficit and debt issues.
“We have to tackle this problem before it tackles us,” Ryan said, delivering a message not very different from his central message as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012.
The race seems on. The CPAC meet has been often called the pre-primaries -- or a cattle call -- for White House aspirants. And the straw poll was simply the first of many auditions.
But the conversation has indeed begun.