Once upon a time (the time being February) I covered a Republican primary race in which a lobbyist was hoping to oust an incumbent. If your career goals include both lobbying and holding elected office, there’s a pretty clear order to do things: Get elected and do some stuff. Leave office. Become a lobbyist. I asked the lobbyist-cum-candidate if his timeline inversion wasn’t a big hurdle, and without a word, he handed me a magazine with Haley Barbour’s beaming face.
We will soon get the opportunity to see said face in the flesh. The Mississippi governor (that’s Barbour) will speak at the state GOP convention in June, and while he may not share the hair, he and Rick Perry have one thing in common: widespread speculation about presidential ambitions for 2012.
For the most part, Perry has successfully positioned himself with the Tea Party and against the federal government. He’s talked about secession and he told Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune (who interviewed the governor for Newsweek) explicitly that he will not run for president. But, you know, that’s what they all say.
Barbour’s a complicated case. In addition to overcoming his a girly first name and a last name that sounds suspiciously French (that “-our” ending came from somewhere), Barbour has also gotten past his lengthy lobbying career in Washington D.C. to become governor. As a lobbyist, his firm had some rather interesting clients—including the government of Mexico. He can’t claim Perry’s outsider appeal and, in fact, he campaigned for his current office by saying he would use D.C. connections to help Mississippi. He’s also been chair of the Republican National Committee and when South Carolina Gov. Mark Stanford stepped onto “the Appalachian trail” and out of his position as head of the Republican Governors’ Association (formerly headed by Perry), Barbour was the obvious pick to jump in.
With one foot in and one foot out, Barbour has a hokey-pokey appeal. Washington insiders like him and so do Mississippians. He’s defended the Tea Party movement and Confederate History month in Virginia, while also garnering raves for his handling of Hurricane Katrina. Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post wrote that Barbour “is that rare combination of effective politician and savvy strategist, popular in his home state and revered among the cadre of political operatives who comprise the Republican permanent political class in Washington.”
While both men claim they don’t intend to run for president, the convention is likely to swirl with speculation about the what their relationship will be like in a couple of years. Barbour endorsed Perry back in October, and the upcoming convention is, after all, about the 2010 elections. For now, Barbour and Perry are on the same team.
Maybe it will stay that way. Barbour’s a good complement to that handsome Perry grin—he’s called himself a “fat redneck” in stark contrast to our Rock Hudson governor. The ultimate insider and consummate outsider might be a great odd couple.
At any rate Barbour will have to find something to do: Unlike Perry, he can’t run for governor again. That’s right: Unlike Texas, Mississippi’s got term limits.