Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) unexpectedly took himself out of the 2012 presidential race Monday, shocking the political press, his supporters, and even some of the staff he had hired for his presumed run. A former lobbyist and consummate Republican insider, Barbour had yet to gain much traction with GOP primary voters, and explained that he didn't have the "fire in the belly" needed for a long, intense campaign. But his fat rolodex, fundraising prowess, and much-admired political skills — not to mention his all-but-launched campaign for the nomination — had politicos taking his run seriously. Now that he's out, who gains, and who loses?
Barbour and the Indiana governor were longtime friends, and Daniels, who also served as George W. Bush's budget director, has made it known he did not want to run against Barbour. "With Barbour gone, a significant impediment to Daniels running is now out of the way, and those who know the governor say his decision just become a little (emphasis on little) easier," says Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. At the very least, the "frenemies" primary is out, says The Hill's Christian Heinze.
The GOP frontrunners
"Barbour had lined up top talent for this bid," says David Weigel at Slate, and those campaign staffers are now ripe for the picking by the remaining Republicans in the race. Equally important, "Barbour's many donors and loyalists are now fair game," says Blake. Mike Huckabee, especially, has "got to be pinching himself," since he's now the only true southerner in the race. Huckabee was already outpolling Barbour even in Mississippi, says Heinze. And Mitt Romney probably wins, too, since Barbour has "delivered some of the sharpest attacks on RomneyCare," and will probably ease off now.
The Mississippi governor clearly had mixed feelings about running, but "his own wife and one of his two sons were unambiguous about where they came down," say Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman at Politico. "They were against the idea," publicly and very vocally. Son Sterling Barbour told The Weekly Standard in March, "I am a private person and don’t want him to run." Wife Marsha Barbour told a local TV station in April that the idea of her husband running "horrifies me." Right, says Jim Newell at Gawker. "Let's blame the wife!"
"Barbour wasn't just flirting with a possible candidacy," says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. Before Monday "he was, for all intents and purposes, already a candidate." And not everyone is buying Barbour's explanation, that he couldn't promise he has the "absolute fire in the belly" to take on President Obama, much less his GOP rivals. He looked at early poll numbers, saw he couldn't win, and quit, says Larry Sabato at Politico. And in doing so, "Barbour just confirmed he's still one of the smartest politicians around."
To crudely sum up Barbour's liabilities in three words: "Fat Mississippi lobbyist," says Dan Amira at New York. His past as a well-paid lobbyist "would've really hurt" his candidacy, says The Hill's Heinze. "He tried turning it into a strength by playing up the possibility of being a 'lobbyist-in-chief'" as president, which is "probably the smartest way of dressing it up." But in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that had Barbour winning 1 percent of GOP voters' support, says Mark Murray at MSNBC, being a lobbyist "was viewed as the worst candidate attribute, worse than having multiple marriages, being a FOX News commentator, or being a leader of the Tea Party movement."
Barbour's departure from the race leaves only one likely GOP contender from the South: Huckabee. And Huckabee isn't showing that he has the requisite "fire in his belly," either. The South is strong Republican territory, but there are still "nagging concerns among GOP insiders about the prospect of nominating a deep-South governor with an accent matching his Delta roots to take on the country's first black president," says Andy Barr at Politico. As former South Carolina GOP chairman Barry Wynn "put it politely" after hearing Barbour speak, "There's a perception that he might be more of a regional candidate."