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Eye On Candidates
November 3, 2015

Could Jindal Be 2016 Surprise Candidate?

The Iowa caucuses often propel previously little-known candidates into contention alongside those who have been talked about and viewed as frontrunners for months.

Two of the Republican candidates in 2016 saw that happen to their own previous campaigns. In 2008 former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won after trailing for most of the period leading up to the caucuses, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum captured first place in 2012 after similarly being ignored up to that point. In 1988 televangelist Pat Robertson shocked the political pundits by finishing third, and Jimmy Carter pulled off the same feat in 1976 by finishing second (he was beaten by “undecided”).

Both Huckabee and Santorum seem to be banking on a similar outcome in 2016, but it could just as easily be another candidate who emerges from obscurity this time. One candidate who might be poised to have a surprisingly strong finish could be Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, at least judging by recent reports. From The Hill:

Jindal edges ahead of Bush in Iowa poll

Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor who has been relegated to the undercard debate throughout the GOP presidential race, has edged out former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a new poll of Iowa.

Jindal scored 6 percent support in the survey from Public Policy Polling (PPP), one percentage point ahead of Bush, though within the poll’s 3.9 percent margin of error….

Jindal's 60 percent favorability rating, meanwhile, is tied for third highest in the state behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Jindal’s campaign has long trumpeted his chances in the Hawkeye State, arguing that his Christian conservative positions and record in the Louisiana governor's mansion would resonate with the state's voters. Jindal's team has pushed networks to use early-state polling to determine debate placement, which could elevate him to the main stage.

A recent report in The Daily Caller suggests Jindal is putting the time into campaigning in Iowa that would likely be necessary to finish well:

Jindal has a long way to go before the state votes in less than 100 days: Iowa’s last two Republican winners, Huckabee and Santorum, are running again…

But a NBC poll this month showing Jindal in fifth place in Iowa has given him optimism, considering Santorum was barely registering in the polls at this time four years ago before going on to win the state’s caucuses.

Jindal has been to 53 of Iowa’s 99 counties so far, doing town-hall meetings…

Visiting every county in Iowa is considered nearly a requirement for presidential candidates, particularly those who are considered long shots and who need to shake as many hands as possible. It seems clear Jindal is on path with this metric.

Perhaps most interesting regarding Jindal’s chances of emerging from Iowa is this morning’s “Power Rankings” of the GOP candidates by the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, who put the Louisiana governor at No. 7, up from No. 12 last week, with this comment: “Unlike other low-polling candidates, he has a potential path to winning Iowa.”

Jindal’s lack of fundraising will continue to hamper him, but rising polls in Iowa could spark some donor interest and ease this concern. The good news for Jindal is that he fits the social conservative mold that most previous Iowa “surprise” candidates have had; the bad news is there are a lot of other candidates who fit that mold as well, including the two past winners.

Jindal probably doesn’t need to finish in first or second place in Iowa, or even third or fourth place, but he does need to finish high enough to get the media and voters in later states to take notice of him. Finishing in eighth place when the polls predicted an 11th place finish isn’t likely to do that.

It will be a three-month wait to find out who the 2016 surprise GOP contender is, if there is one at all, but at this point Jindal has to be one of the favorites to grab that mantle.