BOBBY HARRISON: Barbour's GOP stature grows, but could he win in 2012?

JACKSON – Haley Barbour, already a bright light in the Republican Party, is really glowing these days.
The Washington Post and Fox News – and media outlets in between – mention the second term governor of Mississippi as a possible 2012 presidential candidate.
A large part of Barbour’s recent rise in stature can be attributed to his post as chair of the Republican Governors Association. He was scheduled to become chair of the RGA this year, but assumed the post early after South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford stepped down from his RGA post last summer when his fabled walk on the Appalachian Trail was revealed to be a junket to Argentina to see his mistress.
Who knew that Sanford’s infidelities would have such an impact on national politics?
Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee back in the 1990s, took the RGA post last summer and got a head start on fundraising for the crucial 2010 election season. Barbour has proven time and again he is one of the top fundraisers in the country – whether as chair of the Republican National Committee or as a candidate for governor of Mississippi in the 2000s.
According to published reports, the RGA under Barbour’s leadership raised $28 million during the first six months of this year. To put that in perspective, in 2006, another key election year, the RGA, under the leadership of then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised about that much during the entire year.
And Romney is supposed to be the candidate with deep pockets as former head of top management consulting firms.
Most believe Republicans can make some major gains in the number of governorships they hold during the November elections. If they do, Barbour will receive a great deal of the credit.
That will put him in good stead for 2012 if he wants to run for president. The apparatus he has in place for the RGA probably could be used as the framework for a run for the White House. If he doesn’t run himself, he will be in position to be one of the major kingmakers for the Republicans.
But the question is how good of a general election candidate would the Yazoo City native be on the national level?
No doubt, he would be a strong candidate in Republican primaries across the country – especially in South Carolina that is usually viewed as a key early contest for the GOP.
But Barbour is from the wrong part of the country to be in a position of strength for the general election candidate. That is not to say he could not win. It is to say the odds would be stacked against him.
A Democrat from the South is a good general election candidate. Look at Bill Clinton as an example. The path to victory for Republicans is for them to nominate a candidate from another part of the country
When Clinton won in 1992, he carried Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. In ’96, he did not carry Georgia, but carried the more important Florida.
In today’s electoral vote battles, those states normally are identified as Republican strongholds – all of them. Barbour would most likely be in good stead to win those states, but can a Southern Republican – more specifically can a Mississippi Republican – do well in the so-called battleground states? Can he do well in states where his party normally struggles?
The Republican has to be able to pick off other states – Missouri, Ohio, Michigan to name a few. And that may be especially difficult for a Republican from Mississippi, which is still the poorest state in the country.
True, George W. Bush was a Southern Republican who won. But remember in 2000, Bush barely won – by an electoral whisker and actually lost the popular vote nationwide. In 2004, Bush was an incumbent buoyed by the memory of 9/11 and of war and still won by a relatively close margin against John Kerry, a Democrat from the wrong part of the country – Massachusetts.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or (601) 353-3119.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal