Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Skips 2012 GOP Presidential Race

The former lobbyist doesn't have the "fire in the belly" for a run.

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Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour announced today that he will not be running for president next year, citing insufficient “fire in the belly” for a run.

Barbour’s surprise departure--he had done campaign-y things like hiring staff and making trips to early primary states--gives a bit more definition to a presidential field which, in comparison to four years ago, has been slow in developing.

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 Republican primary field.]

The former RNC chief’s not making the race is one of the few certifiable surprises one gets in politics these days, though it perhaps should not have been. I never quite got the Barbour boomlet among pundits. Yes, he’s a popular sitting governor with deep establishment connections. But he also seems a caricature of a southern politician--still problematic for GOP presidential contenders--with a special tone deaf quality when it comes to matters of race to boot.

And he was never going to be able to shed his scarlet “L.” The line he took embracing and touting his lobbyist background to try to play it as a strength was probably the best way he could have handled it. "The first thing a president’s going to have to do when he takes his hand off the Bible is start lobbying,” he once told an interviewer. “And I’m a pretty good lobbyist.” That may be true but it’s not the side of presidential leadership the public embraces: Voters are more enamored of the Bully Pulpit presidency than an arm-twister in chief.

In the end Barbour never got much traction and was mired at the bottom of the pack in terms of polling numbers. As a result, it seems unlikely that his absence will have a huge impact on the race. The New York Times’s Nate Silver got it about right, I think, when he tweeted: “If it helps anyone--and I'm skeptical that it matters much--Barbour's exit will help Huckabee.” The thinking is presumably that there isn’t room for two southerners in the race. It could also help a possible Mitch Daniels candidacy in terms of solidifying support of the GOP establishment. [See editorial cartoons about the GOP.]

In any case, here’s Barbour’s exit statement:

I will not be a candidate for president next year. This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided.

Hundreds of people have encouraged me to run and offered both to give and raise money for a presidential campaign.  Many volunteers have organized events in support of my pursuing the race. Some have dedicated virtually full time to setting up preliminary organizations in critical, early states and to helping plan what has been several months of intensive activity.

I greatly appreciate each and every one of them and all their outstanding efforts. If I have disappointed any of them in this decision, I sincerely regret it.

A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.

This decision means I will continue my job as Governor of Mississippi, my role in the Republican Governors Association and my efforts to elect a new Republican president in 2012, as the stakes for the nation require that effort to be successful.