By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – For the past six months or so, Gov. Haley Barbour has sounded and acted like a presidential candidate.
But Monday, the second-term Mississippi governor said he won’t run.
“A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” the 63-year-old Yazoo City native said in a written statement. “His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.
“This decision means I will continue my job as governor of Mississippi, my role in the Republican Governors Association and my efforts to elect a new Republican president in 2012, as the stakes for the nation require that effort to be successful.”
Barbour’s second and constitutionally mandated final term as governor will end in January. In recent months, he has spent time in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which hold early presidential primaries and caucuses.
He had acknowledged that he was considering a bid, but said he would wait until late April after the Mississippi legislative session ended before making a final decision.
He appeared to be running, putting in place some staff and shedding some weight.
“I guess to be honest I am a little surprised with the announcement,” said Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo. “With the amount of good press he seems to have gotten, I really thought he would take a shot.”
Barbour has been the subject of numerous national news stories as a possible candidate. His stewardship of the state after the Katrina disaster was highlighted, as well as his time as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, political director for former President Ronald Reagan and powerful party insider and fundraiser as former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Many also viewed his credentials as an economic developer in the state as a positive in any national candidacy.
But the governor also suffered his share of bad press, particularly in the area of civil rights as he defended – before apologizing – the White Citizens Council, which worked in the 1950s and ’60s to preserve segregation in the state.
He also suffered other bad press because of the state’s ranking on various quality of life issues.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said, “While I know America would benefit from the leadership of Gov. Haley Barbour as president, I certainly understand and appreciate the personal decision Gov. Barbour has made today.”
Though Barbour was viewed as a serious candidate by all national pundits, he never could reach 10 percent support in various polls of likely Republican voters.
Many believe he would have been able to garner additional support as he became more widely known outside his native Mississippi.
Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc, said, “I can see where he is coming from when he talked about that 10-year commitment. Quite honestly, it would have been an uphill battle, coming from the South. But he has done a good job as governor.”
Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, said he was not surprised by Barbour’s decision.
“I kind of viewed the governor as testing the waters,” Buck said. “While he is popular in Mississippi, nationally he is apparently not that strong.”
In his statement, Barbour said, “Hundreds of people have encouraged me to run and offered both to give and raise money for a presidential campaign. Many volunteers have organized events in support of my pursuing the race. Some have dedicated virtually full time to setting up preliminary organizations in critical, early states and to helping plan what has been several months of intensive activity.
“I greatly appreciate each and every one of them and all their outstanding efforts. If I have disappointed any of them in this decision, I sincerely regret it.”
Aldridge said he would not be surprised to see Barbour end up in the White House as either vice president or a member of a Republican president’s cabinet.
Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, agreed, saying the governor has set himself up “as a conductor, a coordinator of what is to come.” He said he would not be surprised to see Barbour on a national ticket.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Reinzi, said, “We all know he is very capable. He will have limitless options. He has not hurt himself or the state in making this effort.”
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, a longtime Barbour friend but also a political adversary, simply said, “God bless him whatever he does.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.