By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – In the halls of the Mississippi Capitol, where the 2011 state Legislature is in session, more attention than usual is being paid to national politics.
That’s because most who work there think Gov. Haley Barbour probably will run for president.
After Barbour’s State of the State speech in January, Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, said, “It sounded like a man running for president. I thought he talked more about federal issues than he had in past state of the state speeches.”
Barbour is in the second and final term of his governorship. He is prevented by law from seeking a third term.
Said Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, “I think there are a lot of people right now thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination. I think the governor is one of those people. I think right now he has as good a shot as anybody else.
“He has to be considered. The proof will be in the proverbial pudding.”
Barbour has said he will not make any announcements about his future until after the 2011 legislative session ends. But during a recent trip to South Carolina, where he met with Republican Party officials in the early primary state, he said, “I’m seriously thinking about running for president but won’t make a decision until April.”
While Barbour might not have made a final decision, he is clearly laying the groundwork.
In addition to the South Carolina visit, he is currently in Israel at the invitation of the Republican Jewish Coalition to meet with political leaders there. He is the third potential Republican presidential candidate to make that trip this year.
On the trail?
Much has been written about the Mississippi governor’s recent travels. Before the November elections, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he showed up in states across the country campaigning and raising funds for fellow Republicans.
It was reported that he was out of state 45 days during a three-month period leading up to the elections. House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson joked that keeping up with where Barbour was like playing the “Where’s Waldo?” game.
Barbour’s staff has consistently maintained he has kept up with his state duties and has reimbursed the state for any travel that was not related to his job.
The House has passed language preventing the use of state-owned airplanes for personal activities. Some said that was aimed at Barbour, who according to records has used the plane at times for non-state activities but has reimbursed the state.
Brown said the legislation is not a slap at Barbour, but that the law should be consistent. There is a law preventing the use of state vehicles for personal use. He said the same should apply for state-owned airplanes.
“If he is going to Washington, D.C., on official state business and wants to have a fundraiser while he is there, I don’t have a problem with that,” Brown said. “We’re not trying to limit the governor’s travels.”
Most here believe that travel ultimately will lead to a run for president.
“As Republicans go, I think he may be the best candidate they have out there right now,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, even though he believes it will be difficult for any Republican to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.
But Mississippians could be watching the election from a completely different vantage point if, for the first time, their governor is running for president.