Mr. Barbour, a former chairman of the RNC is finishing his second term as chief executive of the Magnolia State. Tested in such crises as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year's tornado in his hometown of Yazoo City, Barbour is leaving the governor's mansion with high approval numbers, and (supposedly) an eye towards higher political office, i.e., the Presidency.
And before today's surprise announcement (some would say stunning), Governor Barbour had done nothing to discourage such speculation. He had formed an exploratory committee and recruited top GOP talent to run his campaign in early caucus and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. True, Mr. Barbour was barely registering in the polls (around 1% in the latest surveys), but as National Review reminds us, he had an out-sized presence in the fledgling race, attracting A-list donors and campaign staff.
So why did he pull out? Sources in Mississippi say Barbour's wife, Marsha, was "horrified" by the prospect of a national campaign. The governor himself questioned his own commitment to an uphill campaign, and there were political issues as well. In speeches earlier this year, Barbour seemed to cast himself as anti-interventionist, a position that other Republican candidates would describe as "anti-defense." Clearly, Governor Barbour didn't want to spend valuable time (and resources) having to fend off such attacks in the primaries, particularly in states like South Carolina and Florida with huge military populations.
There is also speculation that Mr. Barbour didn't like the odds of running--as a southern governor--against the nation's first African-American president. Almost a year before the first primary, members of the MSM were already hard at work, trying to depict Barbour as someone who was tolerant of racism. Of course, there is no truth in that charge, but as the governor knows, Republicans can be tarred as racists with only rumor and innuendo. That made Barbour's road to the GOP nomination even more difficult (and in his final judgement) unattainable.
Some would also argue that Mr. Barbour shot himself in the foot with ill-advised comments on race earlier this year. Recalling his childhood in Yazoo City, Barbour credited the local Citizen's Council with helping maintain the peace and keeping the Ku Klux Klan out of the town. That struck many as a myopic assessment. While the Yazoo City council may have been anti-Klan, they were also ardent segregationists. It wasn't exactly an endorsement of Bull Connor or Ross Barnett, but Governor Barbour's remarks did nothing to help his fledgling presidential bid.
While Mr. Barbour and his supporters are undoubtedly disappointed, there may be something of a consolation prize in the very near future. Instead on focusing on a losing bid for the White House, the Mississippi Governor can concentrate on an office that can be easily won and may be open in the very near future. We refer to the Senate seat of Thad Cochran, the first Republican to represent Mississippi in that body since Reconstruction. First elected in 1978, Senator Cochran has cruised to victory in five subsequent campaigns. Still, there have been rumors that Mr. Cochran may call it a career in 2014, and not run for re-election. If that happens, Haley Barbour instantly becomes the preemptive favorite for the seat.
True, the road from the World's Greatest Deliberative Body to the White House has often been bumpy, but it can be done (consider the current occupant of the Oval Office). As a successor for Cochran, Mr. Barbour would be on the national stage, with plenty of opportunities to rebuild his support network in time for a 2016 run. After all, Mr. Barbour is anything but a novice, and hardly a political unknown. Or, he could simply finish out his political days in the Senate, as countless others have done.
Among Republicans, there are few more astute interpreters of the political tea leaves than Haley Barbour. He saw no chance of winning his party's nomination in 2012, and wisely decided against a futile run for the White House. But Mr. Barbour is not quite ready to retire from politics, either. That's why we believe today's decision was influenced (in part) by events that will unfold over the next two years. Haley Barbour won't be President in 2014, but he may be Senator-elect from Mississippi, back on the national stage and weighing his options.