Count Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour almost in on the 2012 Republican presidential primary. While focused on his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in expanding the number of GOP statehouses around the country in the midterm elections, he hasn't closed the door to running for president, something many in the Republican establishment wish he would do.
"I'm not going to give any serious thought to running for president until after the November elections," he said at a breakfast this morning, adding: "I haven't given that the least bit of thought." The portly former Republican Party boss and lobbyist had previously told reporters that if they see him losing weight, then that would be the signal he was running. He told them today that he ate last night at Washington's Morton's the Steakhouse, noting to laughter that it has a "great diet kitchen."
Still, he did sound like a presidential candidate in fielding questions about the upcoming midterm and 2012 election, urging Republicans to focus on bread and butter issues Americans are worried about, including jobs, the economy, taxes and debt. "We need to keep our foot on the accelerator," he said, noting that the GOP has the wind at its back.
On 2012, he didn't discuss many potential candidates, though he did say that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is positioned well to run. "I think he's got a starting place. That's all anybody has," he said. Barbour said that the GOP primaries will be "wide open."
He also endorsed a controversial issues truce proposed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another 2012 presidential possibility, who has suggested that GOP candidates dwell mostly on fiscal issues in the election and not get bogged down on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
"The voters have on their minds the economy, jobs, spending, deficit, debt, and taxes," he said. "Good campaigns are what's on people's minds," said Barbour.
"I'll put my bona fides up against anybody as a social conservative," he added. "But that ain't gonna change anybody's vote this year because people are concerned about jobs and the economy and growth and spending and taxes. Y'all get where I'm going? But that's what's on people's minds. If you run down rabbit trails, you're using up valuable time and resources that could be used to talk about what they care about," said Barbour.
"Do I think there's any kind of truce or social agreement? I don't know, but it seems to me that a whole lot more was made of that [Daniels] statement that it deserved. I thought there was less there than meets the eye," he added.
Social conservatives, however, say they've pressed Daniels on the issue and he hasn't backed off his wishes to have the economy and jobs dominate the coming elections, not social issues, though he isn't suggesting that he will duck those.
Still, a key conservative activist who works with several anti-abortion groups said, "The Reagan coalition sits on a three legged stool, national security, free market economics, and social conservatives. The coalition only functions when all three are working together. Try to exclude or downplay one leg and the excluded folks get pretty steamed, make a lotta noise."