Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour speaks during a news conference on healthcare reform with congressional Republicans Tuesday in Washington, DC.
Now batting for Team GOP 2012, Gov. Haley Barbour.
The bubbly and portly chief executive of Mississippi has now moved into the "Land of Mention"-- as in being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for 2012. In the coming days, with visits to Virginia, New Hampshire and Iowa, he will be laying out some possible chits that could be cashed in three years from now. On Tuesday, he even joined congressional Republicans to denounce federal government-run health insurance.
As a former lobbyist, with a thick Southern drawl, Barbour doesn't come across as a likely national figure. However, one can't underestimate his stature across the party.
For one thing, he gets respect from conservatives and moderates alike because of his successful tenure as chairman of the RNC in the mid-'90s. He won important off-year elections in New Jersey, Virginia and New York City.
Second, of the states affected the most by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mississippi came out looking not too bad -- especially in contrast to Louisiana. Barbour kept his wits about him and managed the emergency in a fairly organized fashion.
More recently, though a conservative who had disagreements with the economic stimulus package, Barbour didn't turn the entire thing into a soap opera in the way that South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal did.
In short, Barbour seems like a competent conservative -- who can also appeal to the moderate elements in the party.
But now that the spotlight is beginning to show on Barbour, will he be able to survive what seems like the "curse" of being mentioned in the 2012 sweepstakes? No sooner was Jindal "mentioned," than he gave a response to Obama's national speech -- and promptly bombed. Sanford's star was rising -- until this M.I.A. story this week upset his momentum. Three weeks ago, Nevada's John Ensign was touring Iowa; now he's caught in a burgeoning sex scandal.
Maybe not being mentioned for president is the best thing for one's political career?
No wonder Barbour's trying to downplay the speculation.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.