ANALYSIS: Barbour expands his already strong clout

If Gov. Haley Barbour has a public relations firm working for him, he could save himself some money.
Oil leak, National Republican Governors’ Association chairman, former GOP national chairman – the media have a million reasons to interview him, to invite him onto the coveted Sunday morning TV news talk shows.
This past couple of weeks have been no different.
The New York Times, for one, tagged along as Barbour and Democrat President Barack Obama took a firsthand look at what the BP oil leak is doing to business and culture along the Gulf Coast.
As he nears the end of his two-term stint as governor, The Times notes that Barbour’s performance during this, the second major disaster of his governorship, could shift his image from “insider party boss” to an out-front crisis manager, and possibly a 2012 presidential candidate.
Much-watched Politico.com “outed” his new political fund, Haley’s Leadership PAC, formed in Georgia and recently taking in some $80,000, while his federal PAC brought in $425,000.
Still, though the math is a little fuzzy on his state report, his Mississippi leadership PAC – Haley’s PAC – ended 2009 with $77,080. That total is a bit deceptive of its activity, which includes supporting candidates nationwide.
In 2008, Haley’s PAC took in nearly $1 million and spent $541,129 even though he wasn’t a candidate for anything. The next year, after the formation of the Georgia PAC, it took in only $67,900 and spent $344,512.
The Georgia PAC has spent very little, with the largest payments of $10,000 to the Council on Global Democracy, a Colorado political organization, and nearly $13,000 for a March 7 event by the Richard Petty Driving Experience of Concord, N.C.
And, as Politico suggests, it’s nothing compared to the National Republican Governors Association fundraising juggernaut, which has brought in $51.6 million since Barbour took the helm last summer and has paid to fly him around the country to speak to political audiences.
Where it’s all going is known only to Barbour. And then, where it all ends is known to no one.
“He can raise gobs of money, and people run to do it when he asks,” observed Dr. Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute of Government and a longtime student of national and state politics.
Wiseman says it’s too early to speculate what the escalated fundraising adds up to and what Barbour’s preferred game plan is, but “whatever table he’s playing political poker at, this gets him there.”
In other words, Barbour’s personal war-chest building just adds to his own enormous clout within the GOP.
“Haley is on a neck-hugging basis with more people in politics than you will ever see,” Wiseman told The New York Times.
Political commentator Sid Salter of Jackson has said he’s skeptical of a presidential bid for Barbour. If that were on the horizon, Salter says, Barbour would be taking a harder line against Obama.
But in Washington last week, the Barbour fundraiser’s success just added ammunition to the fire of predictions.
His nephew, Henry Barbour, who runs his PACs, denies his uncle is thinking about 2012, nor is he concerned about a fundraiser drawing fire during the oil-leak crisis.
He says Barbour’s “head and his heart are focused on 2010,” the mid-term elections which the GOP hopes will return its majority to the U.S. House and Senate.
He tells Politico that the Georgia and federal PACs aim at capitalizing on Barbour’s rising political profile.
Per the recent fundraising, Wiseman expects Barbour to continue using it to bolster GOP races for House and governorships, adding up his chips along the way.
“No matter who gets the nomination,” Wiseman said, “they will have to take Haley Barbour into the inner circle, where other big decisions are made.”

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com or her posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal