May 2011 Update: After proclaiming that today’s presidential candidate must commit to “an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” and that his supporters “expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate,” Barbour declared that he could not “offer that with certainty,” and bowed out of the 2012 presidential race on April 25.
March 2011 Update: Barbour has been working the country this month focusing on economic message. He’s visited Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada (all early primary/caucus states), California and Illinois. Barbour got rid of his press secretary after he made some distasteful comments concerning the disaster in Japan and disparaging comments about a former U.S. attorney general. Gov. Barbour will need to get these unforced errors under control if he wants to excel under the harsh scrutiny that comes with a presidential campaign. I don’t expect an official announcement that he’ll run until late April or early May, but all signs indicate he will make a bid.
Haley Barbour is an able politician. After Hurricane Katrina, he was the only Gulf Coast executive who looked like he had a grasp of what was going on and what should be done. He used the extensive ties that he’d created as an influential lobbyist to leverage those on Capitol Hill to flow resources to Mississippi. That one example sums up both an advantage and disadvantage that Barbour has going into a presidential campaign. On the one hand, he has strong ties to (and favors to cash in on from) Republicans around the country and that is definitely an advantage to have in a primary campaign. On the other hand, there is a strong resistance on both sides of the aisle right now to lobbyists; the insider deal making and horse-trading are seen by some as the Washington, D.C. way of doing business that voters rejected in 2008 and 2010. Barbour focuses on the strength by asserting that lobbying is the president’s job: “Whoever wins [in 2012] will immediately be lobbying. That’s what presidents do for a living– presidents try to sell what’s good for America to others in the world as well as to America.” We’ll see if voters agree with this assessment.
Governor Barbour is not seen by conservatives as being ideologically pure. He has been know to stray from hard core conservative principles in order to get things done. This would no doubt be a strength in a general election matchup, if he can sell this to the more conservative Republican primary electorate. On the downside, Barbour has made some unforced errors with comments concerning Mississippi’s civil rights history. In the end, I think he may be held back by being a thick-drawled governor of a southern state that unfortunately is ranked at or near the bottom in many vital statistics. Because of these things, Republican voters in other parts of the country may not want him to be their party’s representative in the election. Still, Barbour is a deft politician and if there is a way to succeed, he is more than capable of finding it and capitalizing on it.