Stephanie Grace: Jindal run for Senate was just not in the cards

by stephanie grace

New Orleans bureau

Well, of course Bobby Jindal’s not running for U.S. Senate.

Jindal made that as clear as humanly possible earlier this week, when he took a sledgehammer to speculation that he might challenge Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu.

“Absolutely not, emphatically no,” Jindal said. “There is no caveat, no wiggle room. I’m not trying to give myself any outs. I have absolutely no interest in running for the United States Senate. I’m not a candidate for the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for the United States Senate. You can film that. You can write that down. Absolutely not.”

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Frankly, the governor didn’t need to be quite so emphatic. As fun as it was to envision a Jindal/Landrieu showdown, the whole idea never made sense.

Yes, there were some arguments in favor of a Jindal candidacy. Since his quest for immediate national prominence seems to be flagging, a stint as senator would have given Jindal time to regroup for the future, one theory went.

It also would have allowed him to hand his job to Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Jindal and Dardenne are anything but pals, but at least that would block the governor’s real nemesis, Sen. David Vitter, who’s rumored to have his own sights set on the Governor’s Mansion.

For all the pros, though, there were way more cons.

Sure, the Senate is one of the country’s most exclusive clubs. But for Jindal to seek a lateral move when he’s been putting so much of his energy into angling for a promotion would amount to a painfully public admission of failure. And Jindal wouldn’t even get to replace Landrieu as the state’s senior senator. Instead, he’d be a junior partner to Vitter, an outcome that would surely sting.

And that’s if he were to win.

What if he lost? Where would that leave his vast ambitions?

It could happen. In a hyper-partisan national environment and without the large Democratic turnout that a presidential race all but guarantees, Landrieu is clearly vulnerable.

Although Louisiana’s voting habits have veered sharply to the right since she went to Washington in the 1990s, she’s survived this long. In fact, in a widely circulated Southern Media & Opinion Research Poll, Landrieu’s approval rating was 56 percent, right up there with most of the state’s well-known Republicans — the exception being Jindal, who clocked in at just 38 percent.

And the poll was taken in March, before the governor endured a legislative session’s worth of bad press.

Jindal could still recover some of his standing. But the way to do that is to double down on the job and counter the perception that he’s lost interest in being governor. Running for Senate would merely confirm that those perceptions were right all along.

Then there’s the reality that the Republicans — led by Vitter — have already largely cleared the field for U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

If Jindal had decided to run, Cassidy might have stepped aside, which would have led to some genuine hard feelings within the GOP. Or he might have stood his ground and forced exactly the sort of intraparty battle that has cost Republicans several other winnable Senate seats in recent years.

That’s not something any Republican with national aspirations wants on his record.

And one more thing: Jindal never seemed to like Congress much in the first place.

Of course, he spent much of his short tenure in the House running for governor, so he never really unpacked. Still, as a career-long government bureaucrat (yes, it’s true, no matter how often he bashes his fellow travelers on that particularly path), his greater affinity for executive branch was apparent. It still is.

As governor, Jindal has had plenty of success getting his way with the Legislature, but he never really took to the give and take. On some of his biggest initiatives, including the privatization of the Charity Hospital system, he bypassed the legislative branch entirely.

So no, to the likely disappointment of at least some political junkies around the state, this was just never going to happen. Given how a Jindal candidacy might have played out, perhaps the only person who has even more cause for disappointment is Mary Landrieu.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com.