Louisiana governor forms presidential exploratory committee

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took another step toward running for president Monday, announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to consider a GOP campaign and suggesting the nation needs a leader with the "ideas to change our country's future."

As he has in the past, the Republican governor said he will announce his ultimate decision on a White House bid after his state's legislative session ends in mid-June. In a statement, Jindal said that if he runs, his candidacy would be based on the idea the American people "are ready to try a dramatically different direction."

The 43-year-old Jindal, the country's first elected Indian-American governor, slammed President Barack Obama's leadership, saying the Democratic president "has started to redefine the American Dream, turning it into the European nightmare."

"Because of this, I believe our country is in serious trouble and that the hour is late for America," Jindal said. "Economic collapse is much closer to the door than people realize, our culture is decaying at a rapid rate and our standing in a dangerous world is at an all-time low."

He said the course can be corrected, but the nation needs to elect a president "who is willing to make hard decisions and who has the ideas to change our country's future."

Jindal also tried to strike a difference between himself and "other Republican leaders are talking about change" by describing policy plans he's released on health care, defense, energy and education.

The wide-open GOP race could ultimately feature more than a dozen candidates. The launch of an exploratory committee is a major move toward seeking the GOP nomination. It's usually the final step before announcing a campaign.

Jindal, a former congressman who started his career in public service as Louisiana's health secretary, spent the weekend with other likely GOP presidential candidates in Iowa, one of a half-dozen trips he's made to the early voting state this year. He's sent political aides to Iowa and recently announced the hiring of a political operative in New Hampshire.

A Catholic convert raised by Hindu parents, Jindal has focused largely on courting evangelical Christians and the conservative wing of the Republican Party, meeting with pastors and aggressively promoting religious liberty in speeches. He drew widespread criticism for a London speech in which he repeated heavily disputed claims that Muslims have established "no-go zones" in European neighborhoods that operate outside of local civic control.

The term-limited governor's repeated out-of-state travel, combined with Louisiana's severe financial problems, have led Jindal's approval ratings at home to plummet to the low-30s. Lawmakers from both parties, along with the GOP and Democratic candidates vying running to be Louisiana's next governor, say his national political ambitions are a distraction.

Jindal has a new book coming in October, called "American Will: The Forgotten Choices That Changed Our Republic."


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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