DES MOINES — Spend a little time with Bobby Jindal in Iowa and his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination doesn't look quite as futile.
On a recent weeknight, nearly 100 presumably GOP voters filled the parking lot of the Fort Des Moines Museum and shuffled inside to hear from Louisiana's governor. It wasn't the four-digit, rock star-level crowd that typically greets front-runners Ben Carson and Donald Trump. But Jindal's audience, which included repeat visitors, was attentive and enthusiastic, and they stuck around till the end so that they could shake his hand and get some one-on-one time.
"I thought it was awesome," Chris Barry, a 62-year-old art teacher from Des Moines, said after the Jindal town hall. "As a born-again Christian also, there's no other candidate that I could support at this point. As long as he's in the race he will have my support."
The 44-year-old, second-term chief executive was tied for the eighth spot in Iowa; Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 caucuses, were both registering 2.8 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls gauging the sentiment of likely Republican caucus-goers. Jindal ranks seventh in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings.
Jindal's message is pitch-perfect for Hawkeye State Republicans.
During the town hall meeting here (sponsored by Believe Again, an independent super PAC supporting his candidacy — more on that later), Jindal emphasized his Christian faith and love for America as an exceptional nation, personified by his India-born parents' immigrant success story. He described 2016 as a defining election that would determine the fate of the U.S.; and heaped disdain on congressional Republicans. They, not President Obama, are the real culprits of the country's malaise.
"The only group Obama seems to be able to out-negotiate is Senate Republicans," Jindal tells the room full of heads nodding in agreement and shouts of "amen."
Jindal, who has high personal favorable ratings, is tied with Huckabee for sixth in Iowa, at 6 percent, in the most recent Monmouth University poll of likely Republican caucus-goers. That was good enough to outpace ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, the former a faltering establishment heavyweight, the latter a rising outsider political star until just the past couple of weeks.
Iowa Republicans often break late, as they did for Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum four years ago. But the conservative Iowa electorate Jindal is targeting with his socially conservative, Washington-outsider campaign has more choices than it did in the past two caucuses. Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, and Trump, the New York billionaire developer and reality television star have dominated the outsider lane.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, well-organized and flush with cash, is gaining among evangelicals. Huckabee and Santorum, who did well religious voters in the past, also are competition.
The Feb. 1 Iowa contest marks the first election of the 2016 primary season, and Jindal's shoestring campaign is at a distinct disadvantage as the governor battles to become the third consecutive political afterthought to win a surprise caucus upset. Jindal has five campaign staff on the ground in Iowa, and one in New Hampshire. His team of senior consultants is similarly tight. Other than field organizing in Iowa, the campaign's primary expense is Jindal's travel.
"We're financially solvent," Jindal campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said on Wednesday, making the case that the governor's operation, as structured, is sustainable through February.
That's where Believe Again comes in. The super PAC, run by Jindal's long-time consultant, Brad Todd, is supplementing the campaign by underwriting town hall meetings across Iowa, as well as tele-town halls. Fiorina also is relying on a supportive super PAC to do a lot of the legwork usually handled by the official campaign.
Campaigns and super PACs are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with each other, but candidates are allowed to appear at events hosted by super PACs that support them. Believe Again, which had scheduled more than 30 town hall meetings from Oct. 1 to Jan. 30, picks up the tab for holding the events and advertising them so that people show up.
At the conclusion of every Believe Again town hall, staff collects information on the attendees for later follow-up, though not, Todd said, for the purposes of field organizing. Video footage of Jindal at the events ends up in the television advertising that the super PAC has been running on Iowa television. Jindal appears at these events as a special invited guest.
"We envisioned a situation where instead of just being a super PAC that ran television ads that talked at voters, we'd host town halls and talk with voters," Todd told the Washington Examiner. "We think the governor does such a good job at these town halls that if we get you to one he's going to have a chance to get your vote."