Gov. Jindal: ‘Maybe I’m not what they think a conservative should look like’

'Who is Bobby Jindal?'
'Who is Bobby Jindal?'

Quick—name the most conservative Republican exploring a 2016 presidential bid.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, maestro of the 2013 government shutdown? Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, with his narrow libertarian's vision of the role of government? Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fierce foe of organized labor?

Bobby Jindal wants you to think it's him.

The Louisiana governor calls himself a "full-spectrum conservative" and has been working hard to prove it.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

He has refused to raise taxes despite a looming $1.6 billion state budget deficit, which he blames on a decline in revenues produced by falling oil prices. He embraced Rudy Giuliani after the former New York mayor questioned President Barack Obama's love of country, endorsed the letter to Iran signed by Republican senators seeking to undercut nuclear talks, and decried Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe that the mayor of London said do not exist.

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A Brown University graduate and Rhodes scholar, Jindal opposes gay marriage and declines to express belief in the theory of evolution.

Everything about his career has moved at lightning speed. At 24, he headed Louisiana's state health department, the largest in state government. By 33, he was in Congress, by 36, he was governor, and nearly two years later, to poor reviews, he delivered the Republican response to Obama's first State of the Union address.

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Now, at 43, he's the youngest among potential Republican candidates. He's also distinctive for his ethnicity—and how he talks about it as a public official. A child of Indian immigrants, he rejects the idea of "hyphenated Americans" and calls for those of different national origins to fully assimilate as a means of strengthening the American fabric.

That, he said, is why he decried Muslim "no-go zones," which he insists that researchers have documented. "If we are not careful, if we do not insist on assimilation and integration," Jindal said, "we will develop those same kind of areas in our country."

He rejects accusations from Democrats and Republicans alike that he is pandering to conservative primary voters. "This goes back to the arrogance of the left, the folks that say you can be smart or conservative, you can't be both," he said. "It's not just the president, it's not just the liberal media—there are some folks in our party that as soon as they get to Washington they give up trying to fight for their principles."

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"I think it's confusing for a lot of people to see a guy who went to Brown University and is a conservative," Jindal said. "Maybe I'm not what they think a conservative should look like. There's an arrogance that thinks that everybody that has an education must think a certain way."

The odds against Jindal remain long. He faces an array of better-known and better-funded candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But he hasn't abandoned White House hopes yet.

The governor, who converted to Catholicism as a young adult, said he's "praying about" a possible race for the White House and intends to decide by summer.