JACKSON – When asked if he will be a candidate for president in 2012, Gov. Haley Barbour gives a little hint of a smile and never answers the question.
Barbour, whose second and final term as Mississippi’s governor will end in January 2012, is considered by many as the national Republican Party’s top political strategist.
He is part of the GOP group National Council for a New America, which was created to rebrand the party’s image.
He’s also the next chair of the Republican Governors Association, and his goal in that position is to help elect Republican governors.
The key to rebuilding the Republican Party from last year’s trouncing, he says, is to compete for the two gubernatorial elections this year, in Virginia and New Jersey, and for the 37 governorships, all 435 U.S. House seats and 36 U.S. Senate seats up for re-election in 2010.
As for his own plans for 2012, he said, “I get asked that often as I go around. I will you what I tell them – as Republicans, if we are not focused on the ’09 and ’10 elections, we do not have our eye on the ball.
“We have to give all our attention to ’09 and ’10 and worry about 2012 after that. I give that advice, and I am going to take my own advice.”
Early on Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee, quelled any speculation that he would be a candidate in 2008, even though the presidential field had no clear-cut favorite.
There is more and more discussions of a Barbour candidacy for president in 2012, and he is doing little to hush that talk.
Chris Cillizza, who writes the Fix, a Washington Post political blog, recently pointed out Barbour will be visiting both Iowa and New Hampshire, sites of two early presidential primaries, on back-to-back days in June.
“Barbour’s background as a lobbyist and his roots in the South would complicate a run for president,” Cilizza wrote. “But back-to-back visits to New Hampshire and Iowa are an unmistakable sign that a national bid is something Barbour wants to keep on the radar.”
As a member of the National Council for a New America, Barbour is working with Sen. John McCain and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to coordinate GOP “listening sessions” and other efforts to rebuild the party.
Barbour, as RNC chair, is credited with helping turn around Republican fortunes in the 1990s after Bill Clinton won the White House and Democrats won both the Senate and the House.
He said the number of Republicans compared to Democrats in Congress was similar then to what it is now. In 1992, though, Clinton won with less than 44 percent of the vote while Republican George H. Bush had less than 38 percent.
In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama garnered more than 52 percent of the vote.
He also cites 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected after Watergate, as perhaps an even worse environment for Republicans. Still, he noted that Republican Gerald Ford made up a 30-point deficit in the polls to make the election close and to give the party momentum.
Barbour acknowledges the Republican Party currently has its struggles, but said the perception by some that it has become solely a Southern party is overblown.
He pointed to the three Republican governors in the New England states.
“When people talk about our lack of strength in New England, they are talking about in the U.S. House,” he said. “We have gone backward there. We have to turn that around.”
Barbour will try to turn that around later this month when he visits New Hampshire. Whether he will be visiting as someone trying to help the party or as a potential presidential candidate will play out over the coming months and years.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal