All indications are that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is likely to seek the presidency. A source close to Barbour told CNN last week, “He’s running until he says he’s not.” The knocks on Barbour are pretty obvious. He faces obstacles as a Southerner, not only because he’s going to have to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire, but because the prospect of a white man from Mississippi challenging a sitting black president will mean that the media will constantly focus on race as an issue — and any statements he makes on the subject will be heavily amplified. Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics has raised questions about whether his Southern handicap is overstated, but even if you dismiss this as a problem, Barbour is left with an even bigger obstacle. While candidates are often attacked for ties to lobbyists, Barbour was actually a lobbyist, having founded one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Washington. That would be tough for a candidate to defend at any time, let alone in the current anti-DC establishment environment.
That said, there are several reasons why we can’t write off Barbour’s chances. To start with, given how open the GOP field is, it’s hard to write off anybody’s chances. But this is particularly true in Barbour’s case. In the run up to the Republican primaries, a lot of the talk has been about how the leading candidates either don’t appeal to the so-called three legs of the conservative stool (on social, economic and national security issues), or that those who do lack executive experience (Sen. Jim DeMint, for instance) or are not ready to run (Govs. Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, etc.). In both rhetoric and record, Barbour has been conservative, and he also has had a successful career as governor. He has a good story to tell about cutting spending and balancing the budget in Mississippi and his ability to handle a crisis, as was evident during Katrina. On top of this, his experience in national politics is rare for a first time presidential candidate. His decades in Washington, stellar chairmanship of the RNC in 1994 and Republican Governor’s Association in 2010 suggest that should he run, he’ll have a great organization and fundraising apparatus.
This isn’t to underestimate the very real obstacles that I mentioned at the start of this post. I’m just arguing that despite those obstacles, Barbour does have a lot of things going for him — and running against the 2012 GOP field isn’t exactly like pitching to the 1927 Yankees.