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Haley Barbour's Washington Week: Jabs at Obama, Romney in 2012 Preview

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he won't decide on a presidential run until next month, but that didn't stop him from road-testing a 2012 campaign message all over Washington this week. As Newt Gingrich dithered over whether to announce that he might start to raise money to possibly explore a White House bid and Mike Huckabee made strange references to President Barack Obama's "Kenyan" childhood, Barbour was putting down markers on energy, jobs, health care and foreign policy.

The former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association has had access to some prime forums: NBC's "Meet The Press," testimony before a House committee, a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a mini-scrum with reporters. On the docket for later this week: a Wall Street Journal economic conference in Santa Barbara, Calif. (he's the only presidential prospect on the program) and the closed-to-the-press Club for Growth conference in Palm Beach, Fla. (along with Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty).

Not bad for seven days, and that doesn't include private meetings and a fundraiser Wednesday night for Haley's PAC, Barbour's leadership committee, which finances his travels and help for other candidates. There hasn't been a whole lot of competition for the capital spotlight. Over the same period, for instance, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has held private meetings in Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida; he'll speak to Carroll County Republicans in New Hampshire at a public event Saturday.

Romney is relatively well known after his 2008 bid, while Barbour is unfamiliar to most voters. He fell flat at the Conservative Political Action Committee gathering earlier this month with remarks that alternated between generic and geeky. But he seemed more in his element these past few days, perhaps because of his history as a lobbyist and top-tier political player, as he circulated around town previewing some 2012 talking points. They fell into several categories:

Statesman Haley: Several times Barbour passed on chances to critique Obama on the Middle East and quoted Sen. Arthur Vandenberg's famous 1945 comment that "politics stops at the water's edge."

Edgy Haley, primary phase: At a hearing on health care, Barbour argued that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed last year would inflate premiums in his state and cause fewer businesses to offer health coverage. Then he discussed the Massachusetts universal coverage plan that Romney signed and that Obama often lauds as the model for the national law. "When Sen. Kennedy, and Gov. Romney, and then Gov. Patrick – if that's what Massachusetts wants, we're happy for 'em. We don't want that. That's not good for us," Barbour said. How and why did those three names wind up in that sentence? Whatever. Barbour successfully sandwiched Romney between two leading liberal lights, while driving home the idea that Mississippi is no Massachusetts.

Edgy Haley, general election phase: One theme of Haleyweek, and likely a Barbour campaign, is a stiff challenge to Obama's energy policy. Barbour berated Obama for failing to push hard enough for "American energy" – specifically oil drilling and coal mining – and said his policies have been "designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive."

Barbour also cited a 2008 comment by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, then head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that U.S. gas prices should rise to European levels in order to force fuel efficiency. He said $4-a-gallon gas in 2008 "brought my state to its knees" and "we don't need that where I am." Chu made the remark to the Wall Street Journal. Barbour did not mention that the same article quoted Obama as disagreeing with Chu, or that Chu backed off the comment in 2009.

The Democratic Party, operating on the premise that declared candidates or not, the 2012 campaign is under way, countered that Obama has made "historic investments in clean energy" to help lower costs and expand energy choices. The party also said gas prices are rising now because of unrest in the Middle East.

Humanistic Haley: At the House health hearing, Barbour said some politicians "act like y'all love our constituents more than we do," but "believe it or not, we love our constituents as much as y'all do. And we want to do right for 'em but we want to do what we can afford."

At the Chamber of Commerce, Barbour talked about how he had sunk money into improving the quality of the workforce, to keep companies competitive and foremost "to help our working people. They deserve that as much as they deserve a high school diploma."

Disarming Haley, Obamacare: In an exchange with Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, Barbour addressed the GOP practice of pejoratively referring to the new health law -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- as "Obamacare": "First let me say I don't mean any offense, but P-Paca doesn't come out too good in my accent for the name of this law. P-P-A-C-A. So I didn't mean any offense by referring to it as Obamacare, it's just easier for me to say."

Green was very congenially not buying it. "I understand. I know it works well on Fox with my Republican colleagues," he said. He advised Barbour to simply call the law "health reform" and added, in his own Texas drawl, "I don't have any problem with your accent from where I come from."

Disarming Haley, the diet: The heavy-set governor joked last year that if he started losing weight, it would mean he had cancer or was running for president. He is rapidly transforming himself into a thinner person. Asked directly Wednesday whether he will run in 2012, he replied, "I have lost a little weight and I certainly needed to. Hopefully I can lose some more." That sure sounds like a yes.

Conservative Haley, Walker edition: In comments sure to fire up the types of people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses, Barbour strongly defended a governor he helped elect last year -- Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He said there's no "constitutional right to collective bargaining," and half the states, as well as the federal government, have limits or bans on it.

"So do I think he's overreached?" he asked a small gaggle of reporters after the chamber speech. "No. I think he is being realistic. Having a one-year agreement about wages and benefits doesn't really help with the problem" of a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

Conservative Haley, social issues edition: Barbour charged repeatedly in his chamber speech that Obama has failed to focus on "the main thing" – that is, jobs and the economy. He later denied that Republicans were getting diverted from "the main thing" and into divisive fights over limiting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

"I think we can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time," Barbour said. True, it was not entirely consistent with his "main thing" doctrine. But another "main thing" at this point is soothing social conservatives, who are key to a third "main thing" -- winning the Republican nomination.

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20 Comments

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Rogell

To the contrary, Haley Barbour is a known quantity, and was a somewhat shaker during the Civil Rights era, much like Huckabee and Gingrich. With exception of Pawlenty, I would have serious concerns about the republican field, including the former senator of Pennsylvania. Moreover, not one of them has experience with foreign entities except Romney, and he isn't acceptable either. Here's a potential candidate who has never worn the military uniform, much less his five boy's, yet he could conceivably get elected and send your children off to armed conflict, but would spare his five boy's. No thank you, I'll pass...

March 09 2011 at 11:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
harjacobhar

OBAMA IS UNTOUCHABLE BASED ON THIS RECORD........
Wall Street continues to rally
Economy improving daily
Unemployment goes below 9%
Plan that invests in jobs - economy - infrastructure and education
HC reform
Dont ask Dont tell
Trade agreements with China and other nations which are boosting the economy
Auto Bail out which has already proven sucessful and paid back
regulations reforming banking industry which protect middle class americans

March 07 2011 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
blasterofparis

Barbour's state is almost third world. I dont listen to a word out of his mouth.

March 06 2011 at 6:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lowrodiay65

Hard to believe the republican platform of more and more tax cuts for the wealthy , kill social security and medicare and more middle east wars will be a winner in 2012.

March 06 2011 at 11:26 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lowrodiay65's comment
whaaaathuh

hve no fear....they won't

March 06 2011 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jjhrams

another bloated catfish eating politcian- in it for power..not for the people

March 04 2011 at 4:24 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
mngnman

isnt miississippi one of if not the poorest states .........

March 03 2011 at 10:34 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
grayce

FP,

I TOTALLY AGREE, OBAMA IN 2012. BARBOUR CANNOT PULL HIS OWN STATE OUT POVERTY AND OTHER ILLS, HOW IN THE WORLD DOES HE THINK HE CAN RUN THIS COUNTRY. NO WAY WILL HE EVER BE QUALIFIED.

March 03 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to grayce's comment
joe

Mississippi is in better shape financially that New York or California. The difference is that Mississippi is overwhelmingy conservative.

March 03 2011 at 6:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to joe's comment
marinetteptrsn

Yeah right, I'll stay in my house and 80k job in California and weather the storm. I'll bet Mississippi will be the same poverty riddled state in the end.

March 03 2011 at 9:52 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down
robjus40

grayce....BHO cannot even pull our country out of debt with his spending, highest gas prices and unemployment ever, no control of our borders, in denial with terrorism issues, food prices climbing everyday, inflation and you think he will be re-elected???? So much for a community organizer! ! !

March 13 2011 at 1:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
fh1939

The former U.S. representative of the U.N. (BOLTON) Looks like the most qualified to be president of the United States. He has the Brains to do the job efectivley besides he is the only qualified person that knows the history and of its importance to make national policy. The other candidates do not even come close.

March 03 2011 at 10:40 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to fh1939's comment
flipsam

I have never considered Bolton, but what a campaign that would make! He is intelligent, blunt, and certainly not glamourous. Oh, would I ever like to see him debate Obama. However, I am leaning toward supporting a governor just because a governor has GOVERNED. Now I just have to decide which governor is the "least worse choice", as my granddaughter used to say. I have a terrible feeling the Republicans are going to shoot themselves in the foot again when they choose a candidate.

March 03 2011 at 12:36 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to flipsam's comment
robjus40

flipsam.....Sorry but you progressives have already shot yourselves in the foot for electing BHO! ! ! !

March 13 2011 at 1:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
marinetteptrsn

The brains? Let's make him dogcatcher! The rest of the world laughed us out of the UN.

March 03 2011 at 9:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
fpfp040408

God Bless President Obama he will win in 2012, there is not one capable Republican to run against him

March 03 2011 at 10:28 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
twbritt

Hopefully, we will have a better choice for President than Haley Barbour. What has Haley done for his home state, I have yet to read anything that his home state is first in except poverty, teen pregnancy and high school drop-outs. I really want these statistics for the other states. Fix your home state.

March 03 2011 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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