Bobby Jindal is barely breaking 2 percent in Iowa polls — but you’d never know it from the way he wowed the crowd at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition summit on Saturday.
The Republican governor from Louisiana is one of nine presidential hopefuls speaking at the Des Moines-area confab, which gathers evangelical Christians together to judge the GOP candidates’ social conservative bona fides.
Freshman senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, the first candidates to speak, were both well received by the Iowan audience. Former Texas governor Rick Perry was next, though he didn’t exactly capture the same enthusiasm.
But while the others spoke about lofty political ideals or the corruption and hypocrisy of Washington, Jindal brought to the stage a fast-talking, folksy, preacher-like quality that immediately resonated with the crowd.
“Our God is an awesome God, can I get an amen?!” he began, spreading his arms wide and striding away from the podium. “Amen!” the audience responded loudly.
Veering away from policy specifics, Jindal instead spoke at length about his personal journey to Christ – thanking his high school friend for giving him his first Bible and describing the moment he came to Jesus during a choir performance at LSU. Moving seamlessly from soul-searching spirituality to tongue-in-cheek quips about himself and his family, the governor’s speech was interrupted more frequently by raucous laughter than applause.
Even after shifting from his own spiritual experience to the politics of religious liberty, Jindal kept the audience in rapt attention. “Here’s my message for Hollywood and the media elite,” he shouted, in the first standing ovation of the evening. “The United States of America did not create religious liberty. Religious liberty created the United States of America!”
In another winning line echoing a promise he made in a Thursday New York Times op-ed, Jindal promised evangelicals that – unlike in Indiana — he would not be swayed from his support of a new religious freedom law working its way through the Louisiana legislature.
“We saw corporate America team up with the radical left to come after our religious liberty rights,” he said, referring to Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s fight against gay rights groups after he signed a religious freedom law last month. “They might as well save their breath, because corporate America is not gonna bully the governor of Louisiana!”
The discrepancy between Jindal’s knockout performance and his dismal Iowa poll numbers is noteworthy, a sign that perhaps the Louisiana governor should invest more time in the state.
Iowa City resident Patrick Nefzger, who called Jindal’s speech “wonderful,” had a straightforward answer when asked when asked why Jindal’s poll numbers didn’t reflect the strong response he received Saturday night. “That’s because they don’t know who he is,” he said simply.