Jindal's Exit Underscores Tough Year for Governors

Jindal's Exit Underscores Tough Year for Governors
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ended his presidential run Tuesday, five months into a campaign in which he struggled to gain traction against his less politically experienced rivals. “This is not my time,” he conceded.

Jindal announced on Fox News that he would suspend his campaign, becoming the third Republican candidate to exit the race for the White House.

Not coincidently, all three 2016 dropouts have been multi-term governors, with past leadership roles in the Republican Governors Association. Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin both left the race in September. Jindal’s departure comes two and a half months before any voting begins. Together, the dropouts underscore just how upside-down this presidential contest has become.

Governors were originally thought to be the golden candidates of the cycle with their executive experience and Washington-outsider credentials. Instead, the governors who are still in the race are struggling, and political novices and freshman senators are atop the polls.

"Experience and expertise seems to be a non-factor this year, which is kind of mind-boggling,” Jindal supporter and Iowa GOP activist Shane Vander Hart told RCP. “You have Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who have no experience, and then the two who are following them, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are first-term senators. It’s not the type of trend I think you would typically see in the Republican Party." 

Even Jindal's campaign marveled at how the presidential contest has defied all predictions. "It's been a bizarre race," said Jindal senior adviser Curt Anderson. " I don't know that any of us can explain it." 

Jindal, who just two months ago sought to raise his profile by slamming Donald Trump, acknowledged the political environment wasn’t kind to people like him. Known within the GOP as a policy wonk, Jindal said in the interview with Fox News that there was clearly little interest in white papers on arcane subjects. Still, after his gubernatorial term ends, Jindal said he would return to a think tank he established a few years ago.

Jindal’s exit wasn’t entirely surprising, since he was languishing in national polls and had missed the prime-time debate stage four times. But he was slated to host campaign events this week in Iowa, the state where he had been placing his bets. Campaign advisers told reporters Tuesday that Jindal had been thinking about leaving the race for a few weeks and made his final decision known to them on Monday. Fundraising was among the key issues driving the decision.

“You have to be realistic in politics and look at what your opportunity is and what your chances are, and he decided it just wasn’t going to happen for him this time,” adviser Anderson said. Timmy Teepal, the campaign manager, acknowledged the campaign was “far behind” others in terms of fundraising and said it was one factor in Jindal’s decision. Jindal raised a little over $1 million. The fundraising issue also throws cold water on the theory that super PACs can sustain candidates beyond their expiration date.

"I think his campaign thought he was definitely in, and he said he was in until Iowa, but things change when you run out of money,” said Vander Hart.

The campaign also lamented the nationalization of the election process—that national polls were used to determine admission to the main debate stage and that it was a disservice to Jindal’s strengths as a debater. The country doesn’t have a national primary, his advisers pointed out. Even a focus on Iowa would not be enough to propel the candidate in what had become a national race, they acknowledged.

Jindal had failed to gain traction in national polls, but he had his sights set on the first voting state of Iowa, where an emphasis on retail campaigning has historically boosted underdogs. Jindal had essentially camped out in Iowa, focusing his campaign on evangelicals and the party’s most conservative voters. But he didn’t quite stick.

While he was trying to work his way up in the polls in the Hawkeye State, the competition in that lane proved too fierce, as Ted Cruz and Carson made significant gains.

Just this week, Cruz announced he’d won Iowa Rep. Steve King’s endorsement, which figures to boost his currency with the conservative base. Jindal’s exit could help Cruz further.

The governor said he had not thought about endorsing anyone in the race. And, unlike Walker, he did not call on other rivals to drop out and coalesce around a nominee.

"Going forward, I believe we have to be the party of growth, and we can never stop being the party that believes in opportunity. We cannot settle for the left’s view of envy and division,” Jindal said. “We have to be the party that says everyone in this country—no matter the circumstances of their birth or who their parents are—can succeed in America.”

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.


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