Any list of potential Republican presidential hopefuls for 2012 invariably includes Haley Barbour.
The 61-year-old governor of Mississippi is enormously popular among GOP rank and file. His aw shucks charm and good ol' boy demeanor win over audiences, and many remember his stewardship of the RNC during Bill Clinton's first term -- when Republicans won control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1952.
Barbour will be headlining party fundraisers later this month in both Iowa and New Hampshire, early states on the nominating calendar. He insists that the visits are tied to his role as the incoming chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but everyone knows that 2012 is a major subtext to the visits.
The obvious question, as asked by The Associated Press' Pettus and Fouhy:
If the Republican Party is in danger of being marginalized as a conservative, white male Southern enclave, is Haley Barbour the best person to turn things around?
Ed Gillespie, another former RNC chairman, says yes:
Haley's unique in that he's a brilliant strategist who led the party and has also run in and won a competitive governor's race. ... He commands a lot of respect from rank-and-file Republicans, as well as the leadership of the party and many Democrats. He's a happy warrior who stands up for conservative principles.
The AP reporters raise other concerns:
He's a former lobbyist who made millions representing tobacco and other business interests, even as lobbyists increasingly have become stigmatized by Democrats and Republicans alike.
But Barbour's political skills have been tested and proven in Mississippi, where he defeated a Democratic incumbent to become just the second Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, and at the national level, where he helped rescue the GOP during another low period for the party. ...
Barbour has governed as a conservative, which is sure to endear him to Republicans across the country.
But coming from a state in the heart of the old Confederacy that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976, his appeal to independents and Democrats is open to question. ... His biggest problem [may be] the accident of timing -- despite his skills, would the party nominate a white, Southern former lobbyist to challenge the first black president?
"Denverbronco," no Barbour fan, had this comment on the Jackson Clarion-Ledger website:
Barbour for president. That will ensure Mississippi's image will stay as a backwoods enclave of the ignorant for many more decades.
I think Haley Barbour would make a very good president. Although I think Mississippi needs him. So does the country.
My gut tells me that the stuff in Barbour's past life/lives that makes him so charming and engaging will ultimately be the reason he doesn't run.