By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press
JACKSON — His name appears on no ballot this year anywhere in the state of Mississippi.
But you wouldn’t know that because his name crops up in numerous political television and radio advertisements and campaign literature.
Yep. Haley Barbour.
The Mississippi campaign primary season saw plenty of Republicans riding Barbour’s coattails — pretty good for a guy who says he’s not publicly supporting anyone until the GOP has chosen its nominees.
“I am not endorsing anybody in any of these primaries,” Barbour told The Associated Press.
Barbour couldn’t run for a third term as governor, and he opted not to run for president in 2012. Surely, Barbour can be expected to help fellow Republicans during general election campaign, if asked.
Two successful campaigns for governor, plus high praise for dealing with the state’s two biggest disasters during his terms — Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Mississippi River flood this year — lead to the likelihood that Barbour will leave office in January as popular as when he went in.
Former Mississippi U.S. Rep. David Bowen, a Democrat, says it’s fairly common for a candidate to link himself to a member of his party who’s well liked and has a base of support.
“I liked to have ads with pictures of Sen. (John C.) Stennis and Sen. (James O.) Eastland and the governor who was of the same party as me when I was running,” said Bowen, who retired in 1983 after 10 years in Congress and now lives in Jackson.
Bowen said he’s not surprised that multiple GOP candidates — even some running for the same office — would want to hitch themselves to Barbour.
“It is part of the game of politics … to want to be identified with people who have a broad base of support, who have been in office longer and who have established a very powerful record,” Bowen said.
Marty Wiseman, who heads the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said Barbour is “the gold standard as far as Republican candidates are concerned.”
“With this continued Republican groundswell, if Haley’s for you, who can be against you? It is a seal-of-approval thing,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman said it certainly doesn’t mean more voters will automatically flock to a candidate because they see Barbour in the background of a TV ad or campaign literature.
“Folks will attach themselves to Haley if they can and it certainly wouldn’t hurt,” Wiseman said. “Some governors were so lame duck you wouldn’t dare to be attached to their name.”
Some Mississippi politicians distanced themselves from two-term Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice after he acknowledged in 1999 that he was having an extramarital affair. Fordice was ineligible to seek a third term in that year, but promoted GOP candidates, including State Auditor Phil Bryant and Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, his appointees who ultimately won full terms. Fordice’s chief of staff, Mark Garriga, lost a race for attorney general.
Fordice had been hailed by many as a savior for Republicans in Mississippi. His win in 1991 as the first Republican governor of the century revitalized the party and inspired 16 party switchers in the Legislature.
In 1995, Fordice had to focus on his own re-election and the challenge from Democrat Dick Molpus, the sitting secretary of state. Fordice won with 56 percent of the vote. Most of the Republican statewide office challengers hovered around 39 percent. Several were well below that.
Longtime Mississippi Republicans joke that their party leadership used to be able to meet in a telephone booth because there were so few people. Fordice and Barbour both trace their origins back to those early days.
Fordice had a much narrower view of the Republican Party than Barbour. Fordice was suspicious of party switchers. Barbour has said the GOP wants to embrace people for anywhere and everywhere. Barbour also has deep pockets, and tries to find strategies to help other Republicans win.