BOBBY HARRISON: Barbour negotiates bumps in the run-up to 2012 race

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend in Washington received a great deal of attention in the Mississippi media.
But conservative conference-goers apparently did not give the governor high marks. He received 1 percent of the vote in the straw poll when the attendees were asked for their first preference for president in 2012.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, more of a libertarian than a conservative, won the straw poll with 30 percent of the vote.
The poll really means nothing. Paul also won in 2010, but has little chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and less chance of being elected president.
Still, Barbour has to be a little disappointed that he finished tied for 15th place with former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, who has recently been part of the administration of President Barack Obama.
This time four years ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the straw poll with 21 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual winner of the Republican nomination, placed fourth with 12 percent of the vote.
In fairness to the governor, the straw poll apparently was conducted before he gave his speech.
Getting in position
The straw poll does not mean Barbour cannot be a serious candidate for the nomination. It should be pointed out that Barbour has placed in the low single digits in scientific polls of Republicans. He knows this, and if he runs, that means he thinks he can overcome the lack of name recognition.
The Mississippi governor, whose speech this past weekend was highly critical of Obama, has yet to announce he is running for president, but it appears he is positioning himself to do just that.
But it is fair to say the governor’s “run-up” to any announcement has not gone as well as he would like.
A few weeks ago Barbour, still largely unknown among many rank and file Republicans despite his key leadership role within the national party, received the type of publicity that he could have done without when he was quoted praising the White Citizens Council, a group formed in the 1950s to preserve the segregationist status quo in Mississippi.
The governor was forced to do something he doesn’t do often – backtrack and apologize.
Those comments and others regarding race have focused attention on Barbour that he does not need if he intends to run for president. To say Mississippi’s history on racial issues is blemished is an understatement.
Mississippi’s racial history – fairly or unfairly – puts an extra burden on Barbour.
The recent publicity the state is receiving because of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ advocacy of a car tag honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who later founded the Ku Klux Klan, does nothing to help Barbour’s presidential aspirations.
The publicity calls attention to Mississippi’s racist past and to a governor who has had racial faux pas.
It does not matter that the Legislature is not going to approve the car tag. Even if it did, Barbour, facing his current level of racial scrutiny, would veto it. It would probably help Barbour if the Legislature approved the car tag so he could veto it.
Too much made
Barbour would most likely contend the media is making the proverbial mountain out of mole hill with all the focus on racial issues. But it is of note that when Barbour ran, he criticized then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove for supporting a proposal to replace the state flag, which includes the Confederate flag in its design.
During that campaign and throughout his first term he proudly wore a pin lapel that included the American flag and the Mississippi flag. He no longer wears that pin on his lapel.
On the flip side, Barbour could face some opposition in the Republican primary, for of all things, not being conservative enough.
There is currently chatter on the Internet that Barbour, working for the Mexican governor in the 1990s, lobbied for a proposal to allow a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Barbour, like all candidates in today’s communication age, faces serious obstacles to his candidacy.
But he is not alone in that boat. All candidates do.
Contact Daily Journal Jackson Bureau reporter Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.