BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — With Gov. Bobby Jindal's approval ratings nose-diving in Louisiana, candidates vying to follow him into the governor's office are freely bashing Jindal's two terms as chief executive.
The strategy, practiced by both Republican and Democratic contenders in the governor's race, is an understandable one, recognizing that a candidate can't successfully woo voters if he's too closely allied with a politician who's not well-liked.
But the trash-talking presents a problem for Jindal, whose record will be enduring an onslaught of attacks locally while he appears to be running for president nationally.
Having a Democrat blasting the Republican governor is one thing. When the GOP candidates are panning his performance, that threatens to undercut Jindal's speeches and interviews in Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., about his achievements back home.
Jindal might have been helped if he had closer relationships with Louisiana's other Republican elected officials, but fostering those links hasn't seemed to be one of the governor's priorities since taking office in 2008.
If a recent small business forum with the gubernatorial candidates is any indication, Jindal's political ambitions, policy-making process and budget-balancing decisions are going to take a beating for months heading into Louisiana's Oct. 24 statewide election.
Four major candidates are running to be the state's next governor: Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.
The depth and type of criticism of the governor varies by candidate, with Angelle — who worked for Jindal across his two terms, including as the governor's legislative lobbyist — being the least direct in his critique.
But even Angelle announced he opposes the governor's chief tax proposal for the upcoming legislative session, just like his fellow candidates. He also described a state budget careening from "fire drill to fire drill."
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, the building is on fire," he said.
That comment can only be seen as criticism of Jindal, the architect of many of the financing tactics and spending plans that have been put in place over the last seven years, even if Angelle didn't directly call out Jindal by name.
Angelle's close ties to Jindal are considered his top political liability, and Edwards made sure to point out the connection at the business forum. He said Angelle shared the blame in the state's current financial problems.
"It is true the building is on fire, but I didn't spend the last several years helping Bobby Jindal light the match," Edwards said.
The candidate forum included a series of digs at Jindal, either directly or indirectly.
Vitter hit on complaints that Jindal has let his national political ambitions drive state policy: "I'm not going to worry about what national political groups think or what block voters in Iowa or New Hampshire poll."
Dardenne talked of having enough of Washington-style politics in Louisiana, in what appeared to be a strike at both Jindal and Vitter. He also said he wouldn't "put higher education on a back-burner in my administration," a reference to Jindal and lawmakers cutting $700 million in state financing for college campuses.
Edwards was most straightforward, blaming Jindal directly for helping to create the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall. The Democratic lawmaker uses Jindal to try to distinguish himself from his competitors, regularly saying the three Republican candidates would continue Jindal-style policies if they were elected governor.
The attacks put Jindal in an awkward position as the national spotlight bears down ever harder and interest intensifies in the governor's performance in office. He has fewer defenders these days and an onslaught of critics.
Jindal and his chief advisers say the governor doesn't care about poll numbers that show his popularity among Louisiana residents dipping into the high 20s and low 30s.
They say the numbers indicate Jindal's reform agenda has ruffled feathers and disrupted entrenched bureaucracies. They talk of economic development wins, educational changes and a smaller government footprint.
If few at home are touting those achievements, it would seem to make Jindal's story a tougher one to tell in other states.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.