Haley Barbour: From lobbyist to presidential candidate?

Mar 22, 2011

Karen Tumulty discussed her analysis of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's potential candidacy should he enter the 2012 presidential race.

Read the article: Haley Barbour may try to rewrite the script for 2012 presidential race at 11:30 a.m.

I'm just back from my first trip to Iowa of the 2012 presidential season. The caucuses are just under a year away. It feels early and late at the same time.  Voters, understandably, are still fatigued from the LAST election. And yet, at this time four years ago, pretty much everyone had announced and was up and running. I spent two days with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour,  an unlikely and yet potentially strong contender.

How does Barbour overcome what is perceived as one of his biggest hurdles, race?

That's a very good question, and one that he and his not-yet-a-campaign operation are grappling with. One thing they are considering is some kind of big speech during teh 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, who are going to have a big reunion in Jackson, Miss., in May.

Has any other candidate, as of late, been hitting the early primary states as often as Governor Barbour?

A number of them have, even more frequently. When I had done a story on Rick Santorum last December, for instance, he had been to New Hampshire seven times, and Iowa and South Carolina at least as often. Newt Gingrich has been hitting Iowa pretty frequently as well. And Tim Pawlenty is already hiring some well-respected operatives. One person they haven't seen a lot of (except when he is selling books) is the 2008 winner of the GOP caucuses, Mike Huckabee.

KT, has Barbour made his run official? It looks like only Pawlenty has more or less done so. With so many contenders in the spotlight, why are they dragging their feet? Would jumping in early be an advantage for fundraising or are there drawbacks (media fatigue?)? I'd guess that given the R's dislike of Obama, his HC program (okay, it's really Romney's and Dole's but I promise not to say anything), etc. everyone would be rushing to leap in, even Palin, but they're not.

Barbour says that he will make some kind of announcement next month, after the Mississippi legislature finishes its session, and he becomes a more-or-less-official lame duck.


They have all been holding back. Huckabee told me that one of the lessons he learned from last time is that the whole thing started too early, and that the candidates were pretty fatigued (not to mention out of money) by the time voters started paying attention. I also think that they are all trying to figure out who is in and who is out before making their own moves. Palin, for instance, would really change the dynamic if she got in.


Newt and Pawlenty seem furthest down the road, in terms of setting up their official campaigns. Romney, on the other hand, already has an operation from last time, so he can afford to wait.

OK! What are the industries that have uplifted Mississippi's economy---casinos and foreign car plants? Didn't federal monies (and casino $$) supplement the repair of the coastlines? Now that Americans are turning against organized labor, will this also boost Barbour's chances?

Barbour does indeed point to Toyota. He also mentions that GE Aviation is building jet engine fan blades there, and that companies like PACCAR and Severstal have built what he calls "major operations."

I'm not sure how the dynamic plays out for organized labor. People I talk to argue it both ways: That there is a backlash against labor (particularly public employees) and that what Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin has mobilized and energized the unions in a way that nothing else in years has.


So I'm going to take the ultimate reporter's dodge: It remains to be seen....

What place would the governor need to have in Iowa to go on, and would he be the favorite in South Carolina? Guessing Barber can forget New Hampshire?

The old adage in politics is that there are "three tickets out of Iowa," meaning if you don't place at least that high, you probably should pack it up.


As for New Hampshire: It looks like it should be Romney's, and if it isn't, it is hard to see how he goes on. (Getting way ahead of ourselves here...) One thing to remember though: In New Hampshire, independents can vote in either primary--and there won't be much of one on the Democratic side. So most of them will probably be drawn to the Republican side.


As for South Carolina, you would think that Haley Barbour would be strong, simply by virtue of the fact that he speaks the language. But it is also has a strong tea party movement, which might be turned off by the kind of insiderism that Barbour represents.  

KT, what might be Barbour's best strategy to straddle support from both the old-school pro-biz R's (that he and Boehner belong to) AND the Tea Party outside agitators (they're clearly different) ...while not driving away other voters outside the R base? Or is this impossible? If Barbour is not the most likely to win over both camps who might be? I'd guess maybe Pawlenty or even Perry if he chooses to run. I'd doubt Palin can win over the old school while Romney likely won't get much love from the TP.

His argument: People are interested in results, and he has produced them.


I think you could make a pretty good case, however,  that tea party members are also interested in process--for instance, in their visceral hatred of earmarks. Barbour has made a successful career of mastering the process, as a party operative and as a lobbyist.



In a crowded tea bag, how will Haley distinguish himself from a Pawlenty or a Romney?

If you assume, as many GOP strategists do, that the 2012 Republican primary will actually be TWO primaries--one for the insurgent vote, the other for the establishment vote--it would seem that all three of them would be in the latter category.


It seems very likely, as a result of this division within the party, that we could see a Republican primary that is longer and messier than we are used to. In other words, their contest may look more like the Democrats' usually does.

It was great spending part of your day with you. I'll be back, and I hope you will too.

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Karen Tumulty
Karen Tumulty is a national political reporter for The Washington Post.
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