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Jindal in Iowa: 'Time to turn back to God'

The Des Moines Register
By Jennifer Jacobs
1/8/15

Some Iowa religious conservative leaders said Tuesday night that they'd never thought of Bobby Jindal as a faith-driven politician — the Louisiana governor is better known as an Ivy League-educated, policy-driven idea generator, they said.

While Jindal's seeming shift to a more Jesus-focused form of politics might cool enthusiasm for some business-minded Republicans, he was well received by a crowd of about 110 Christian and Jewish leaders at an invitation-only, closed-press event Tuesday night in Des Moines.

"The reality is I'm here today because I genuinely, sincerely, passionately believe that America's in desperate need of a spiritual revival," Jindal, who is weighing a presidential bid, said during a 37-minute-long speech followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session.

"I love to quote Winston Churchill. ... 'You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they've exhausted every alternative,' " Jindal said.

"That's where we are as a country," he continued. "We have tried everything and now it is time to turn back to God."

The dinner was sponsored by the American Renewal Project, a conservative effort that aims to erase the wall that separates religious leaders and political leaders. Earlier in the day Tuesday, Jindal gave the same presentation to about 50 religious leaders in Cedar Rapids.

The Des Moines Register was given exclusive access to cover Jindal's Des Moines speech.

Several pastors and other spiritual leaders unfamiliar with Jindal's religious side said before the dinner that they'd be listening to see how well he delivered testimony about his spiritual life.

"He has to be able to speak the dialect," said Jan Mickelson, a local radio talk show host and religious conservative commentator. "This is a crowd that can hear whether he speaks the right language, with the right connotation, with the right context."

Jindal, whose parents were and still are Hindu, told the Iowans about how he "found Jesus as my Lord and Savior" at age 16 and eventually converted to Catholicism. He talked about searching the Bible for "shortcuts and easy answers," and realizing that "on the last page in the book of life, our God wins. ... Our God beats death. Our God beats Satan for us."

Afterward, Mickelson said: "He's not bilingual. That's his native tongue. He will give (Mike) Huckabee a run in Iowa."

Several GOP potential 2016 presidential candidates are known for trying to connect with Christian conservative voters, including Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas; Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul; former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum; Texas Gov. Rick Perry; and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

A recent Iowa Poll found that nearly half — 46 percent — of Iowans who intend to participate in the 2016 Republican caucuses consider themselves evangelical Christians.

The Rev. Larry Davis of New Friendship Church of God in Christ, a Des Moines Pentecostal church, said that this was the first time he'd heard Jindal speak about his faith, and that his message was spot on.

"That's the message the country needs to hear: If the people start to humble themselves and look to God and pray, then God is going to start healing the land."

Tamara Scott, an Iowa evangelical Christian leader whose husband owns the Airport Holiday Inn, where the event was held, said she's seen some Republicans establish themselves as budget-minded conservatives before pursuing social issues. It allows them to gain credibility, she said, without being pigeon-holed as a religious conservative.

Jindal told the Register in an interview Tuesday night that although the role of God in his life might be unfamiliar to Iowans and others outside Louisiana, it's very familiar to people in his home state.

Asked if there's any danger that budget-focused, business Republicans in Iowa will be turned off by all the faith talk, Jindal said: "Look, I've never been afraid to stand up for who I am 100 percent of the time, 100 percent of who I am. My advice for the Republican Party is that we need to be a party based on principle.

"The GOP is not only the party that fights for smaller government, lower taxes, school choice and energy independence, it's the party that fights to protect "innocent human life and traditional marriage," he said.

"We should be a party that's proud of our conservative principles. Our country doesn't need two liberal parties," he said. "Not everybody's going to agree with us 100 percent of the time, and that's OK. What the country doesn't want, I think, is a party that's pretending to be something it's not. If all we do is pretend to be cheaper Democrats, we'll never earn the right to be in the majority. Let's stand up for what we believe. Let's be authentic. Let's be sincere. Let's not discriminate. Let's respect people who disagree with us. Let's be bold and specific."

Two years ago, Jindal urged on the GOP to "stop being the stupid party." He was referring to Republicans who damaged the brand with offensive and bizarre comments, he said.

It was Jindal's sixth trip to Iowa since the 2012 presidential election. He has chosen a mixed set of venues — including a Republican Party state convention, a Polk County GOP holiday dinner, and another American Renewal Project event in August 2014.

Organizers said Tuesday's events were closed-door so that pastors could have a private experience without feeling like they were using their spiritual roles for a publicity event.

Several Republicans eyeing a White House bid will share an Iowa stage during Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, a daylong event organized by U.S. Rep. Steve King and Citizens United. Jindal has said he can't make that event because it's the same day as "the Response," a gathering in Baton Rouge that will center on fasting and prayer for the well-being of the United States. Perry led the prayer event in Texas shortly before launching a presidential bid three years ago.

"It's a nonpolitical event. No political speeches," Jindal said. "It's a time for prayer. It's a time for repentance. I think it's going to be so good for our country."