Stephanie Grace: Jindal clearly focused outside of Louisiana

Deep in yet another national political story about yet another grand plan to make his mark on the larger scene, Gov. Bobby Jindal finally acknowledged what may be the worst-kept secret in all of politics.

Asked by Politico whether he’ll run for president, Jindal said he hasn’t decided but finally admitted that he’s “looking at it.”

“Everyone knows we’re thinking about it,” he said. “In six years (in Louisiana), we’ve shown that if you apply sound conservative policies and actually put them to work, they work in the real world.”

OK then.

Jindal’s admission didn’t exactly set the world on fire, nor did the actual breaking news in the story: that he’s setting up a political action committee to raise money for Republican congressional candidates.

This, of course, is a tried and true method of creating goodwill and stacking up IOUs, and an area in which Jindal has some experience. Back when he was still en route to easily winning his first election for Congress nearly a decade ago, he started donating money to fellow GOP candidates who faced tougher fights. Within days of the election — and after Jindal had sent an audacious overnight letter expressing his desire to be freshman class president — his grateful peers simply handed over the title, in effect anointing him the first among equals.

Then, with memories of his upstart but nearly successful first campaign for governor yet fresh, he still had the element of surprise working in his favor.

These days, though, Jindal’s higher ambition is such an accepted fact that he’s not going to catch anyone off guard. Those national reporters chronicling the early stages of the 2016 contest? Until Jindal spoke to Politico this week, they’d taken to quoting U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s assertion that it’s “very obvious” Jindal would likely run. Never mind that Vitter is no ally of the governor and certainly doesn’t speak for him. Vitter’s assertion simply made it easier for them to write what they, and everyone else who’s watching, could see with their own eyes.

In fact, Jindal’s in the midst of a particularly busy stretch of national headline-chasing.

Last week, he used his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to declare President Barack Obama the worst president of his lifetime — and, incidentally, to implicitly liken the country’s first African-American attorney general, Eric Holder, to arch-segregationists who once blocked schoolhouse doors, all because Holder has raised legal objections to Jindal’s prize school voucher law.

On Wednesday, he announced the new PAC, to be headed by the same operative who runs his nearly-as-new Washington think tank. On Friday, he heads to New Hampshire for a pair of appearances in the state that holds the first presidential primary.

Monday was particularly jam-packed. He started the day by publishing an op-ed in the National Review harshly critiquing Obama’s handling of the Crimea crisis. He ended with a taped interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer on energy policy.

In between, he somehow found a few minutes to swing by the State Capitol, open the annual legislative session and outline the least ambitious agenda of his two terms. Jindal named three priorities — workforce development, a crackdown on human trafficking, and support for a “fair and predictable legal environment” (a clear reference to legislation to halt lawsuits like the one filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East against the oil and gas industry) — before he went on his way.

As much as his big national plays, Jindal’s Baton Rouge speech hinted at where he’s at these days. He wistfully recalled bold initiatives he’d successfully pushed in his earlier years, starting with the ethics package from his very first year in office. But he seemed to learn the lesson last year, when he aimed to eliminate state income taxes — an idea that would surely play well across the country — but didn’t bother to sell it back home. This time, he offered nothing big, bold, or likely to drag him into controversy or result in an embarrassing reversal.

Jindal may be going big nationally, but his days of grand ambition for Louisiana feel like a distant memory. Almost as distant as his old refrain that he has the job he wants.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes.