12 in 2012: Bobby Jindal Seen as Competent Governor With Experience Beyond His Years

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is only 39 years old. If he were to run for president in 2012 and win the election, he'd be the youngest president in history.

So it's notable that people often cite Jindal's experience as his biggest selling point as a potential Republican candidate.

Jindal is the former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. He served as assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. He is a former congressman.

And he now is in his first term as governor of Louisiana -- a state with a daunting array of challenges.

The reason I ran for governor, what I think is the biggest challenge facing our state -- even bigger than the oil spill, bigger than the hurricanes -- was making sure that Louisiana's people didn't have to leave home to pursue their dreams," Jindal told Fox News. "For 20 years, we've been the only state in the South that's been sending more people out of the state than have been moving into the state, because of a lack of economic opportunities. We have turned that around."

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Jindal was a "boy wonder" when he appeared on the national scene years ago, NPR correspondent Mara Liasson, a Fox News contributor, said.

"He's always been talked about as a future star of the Republican Party," Liasson said. "He comes off as a competent and effective governor."

Jindal counts 35,000 new jobs, $5 billion in private capital investment and "the largest income tax cut in our state's history" during his watch as governor.

But whether his approach to governing a state would translate to success in governing nationally is another story.

"What we've done here can work across the country. If you cut spending, cut taxes, create a predictable environment for small and big businesses to create jobs, you can create better opportunities for your people," Jindal said. "The problem is in Washington you've got an administration that thinks all of the answers have to come from government."

But Jindal's Democratic critics say for all the governor's complaints about President Obama's policies, he's quick to grab federal cash when he can, such as with the federal economic stimulus legislation passed in early 2009.

"As governor of Louisiana, it's my obligation, when the federal government decides to spend some of our tax dollars, to look through and see line by line which programs make sense for Louisiana, which ones don't," he said. "So, we did turn down several pots. The ones where they didn't come with strings, certainly -- we've used that."

He's also critical of the federal health care overhaul passed by Democrats this year, saying it will cost Louisiana billions. Jindal said he's in favor of repealing the law and replacing it with better legislation.

"Nobody was happy with the way health care was before," he said. "We need refundable tax credits to help people, so they're not faced with either government-run Medicaid or emergency rooms or being uninsured. We need voluntary purchasing pools.

"The fundamental choice is, who do you want making these decisions? Do you want the doctor with a patient making the decisions? Do you want to empower the patient? Or do you want some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., making these decisions for you?"

As for foreign policy, Jindal says the war on terrorism is the most pressing issue.

"It is standing up for freedom. We should make no apologies for our country. We shouldn't think that we have caused these terrorists to attack us," he said.

That's a sharp jab at Obama -- who was seen by many Democrats as someone who could burnish America's image around the world.The parallels between the two politicians is surely why the GOP chose Jindal to deliver the Republican response to Obama's first state of the union address. But in the eyes of most commentators, it suffered in comparison.

"I think I pretty clearly proved to the country that I can't read a Teleprompter," Jindal said with a smile. "I enjoy talking to people. And I enjoy just interacting with them naturally, without notes."

Jindal regained lost stature and more when the Louisiana coast was hit by the BP oil spill.

"I spent months along the coast, nearly every day meeting with local fisherman and people that live and work off this coast," he said. "Time and time again, Louisiana people who know these waters came up with innovative solutions."

It's hard to listen to Jindal and not come away thinking he's a successful politician in a hurry. But when asked about a White House run, he repeatedly has said, not so fast.

"When the other candidates are running for president, I'll be running for re-election," he said. "I've got the job that I want. ... We're doing good work here, but we've got more work to do."

Watch Fox News' "Special Report With Bret Baier" at 6 p.m. ET weekdays through Nov. 19 for more from the series "12 in 2012" -- profiles of potential GOP contenders for the White House.