Bobby Jindal sues Obama over Common Core. What's that mean for 2016?

Presidential contenders running well behind in the polls need a big issue. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal may have found his in a lawsuit to block President Obama from imposing Common Core education standards.

Brian Frank/Reuters/File
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) waves as he speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, earlier this month.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) says the Obama administration is forcing states to adopt Common Core education standards, and he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s planning to sue to stop the White House from what he claims is illegal use of grant money and other levers of federal power to enact a de facto national school curriculum.

So move over, Speaker Boehner. Your lawsuit targeting Mr. Obama for alleged misuse of executive powers is no longer the only GOP courtroom assault on the president.

“The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative,” said Governor Jindal, in a statement. “Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything.”

Jindal is widely seen as a possible presidential candidate. This move might raise his profile among Republican primary voters thirsting for someone, anyone, to confront an administration they consider out of control. Does it make sense for 2016?

Yes, there are many substantive education issues at stake with this lawsuit. Is Common Core a back-door to Washington control of the nation’s classrooms? Is it helping students or holding them back? Why has Jindal reversed his previous support for this initiative?

We’ll leave those questions to our colleague on the education beat for the moment. This is a political blog. Given that the opening maneuvers of the presidential race are upon us, it’s appropriate to look at the political context in which Jindal – a national GOP figure – is operating.

First, he’s picked a soft target. Federal education efforts aimed at boosting US student competitiveness are often controversial and Common Core is no exception. A recent Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans oppose having their local teachers use Common Core standards. Only 33 percent approve.

Among Republicans this approval gap is even wider. Fully 76 percent of GOP voters oppose Common Core, with only 17 percent in favor. In that sense Jindal has picked an issue that could well boost his stature in the crowded GOP presidential field.

And Jindal needs such a boost. Among the 10 possible aspirants listed in RealClearPolitics average of major GOP presidential polls, the Louisiana governor is ... dead last. He’s the first choice of 2.3 percent of Republican voters, according to RCP.

It’s early yet and the field is scrambled. There is still time for Jindal to move up.

But not that much time – the pre-primary phase of the race is well underway. Potential candidates are wooing big donors, quietly setting up networks of supporters in key states, and cycling through New Hampshire as if it were their second home. Laggards will be cut from the field in six months or so, according to political scientist Jonathan Bernstein.

“Over the past several cycles, Republicans, in particular, have been extremely effective at winnowing their serious candidates to the point that few viable ones remain by the time the Iowa caucuses begin,” writes Mr. Bernstein.

The upside here for Jindal is that there is lots of room in the electorate for him to grow his support. He’s not well-known, with only about 45 percent of Republicans familiar with his name, according to recent Gallup figures.

That means that if he latches onto a popular issue he might shoot up in the standings to the point where he’s in the group of front-runners. Gee, what might that issue be?

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