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October 10, 2005

Barbour for President?

This morning's Washington Post has a surprisingly favorable profile in the Style section of Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, former head of the Republican National Committee, and possible presidential candidate. The article begins with an anecdote showing what a fun guy he is:

Gov. Haley Barbour's favorite political memento is a framed sequence of four photos of himself trading off-color jokes with his former boss, Ronald Reagan. In the first photo, the young White House aide is seen telling the president a joke, "the one about the three couples joining the church," Barbour says. He adds, rightly, that the joke is not suitable for the newspaper -- its punch line features one of the couples doing something enormously inappropriate in the frozen-food section at Kroger.

In the third picture, Reagan is saying, "Haley, have I ever told you the one about the two Episcopal preachers?"

This joke can't go in the newspaper, either.

The last photo captures Reagan and Barbour, post-punch line, convulsing in laughter. It is inscribed, "Dear Haley, did you hear the one about . . ."

"One reason Reagan liked me was that I wasn't afraid to tell jokes in front of him," the governor of Mississippi says with a mark of pride that reflects an essential part of his political personality, even during these most unfunny days in post-Katrina Mississippi.
The profile devotes a good deal of ink to Barbour's post-Katrina efforts and reports some positive anecdotes involving Barbour and his wife. Along the way, the profile mentions this:
Barbour makes regular trips to "the devastation" -- the operative synonym for the coastal region. Like Reagan, the governor's political idol, Barbour emphasizes hopeful rhetoric even amid despair-inducing conditions. He talks of how Katrina could, in the long term, be the impetus for a "renaissance" in Mississippi.

This renaissance, if it occurs, could be a springboard into a run for president in 2008 -- something Barbour had been considering before Katrina. "He is, in some ways, in a very enviable political position," says W. Martin Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. Wiseman adds that Barbour's fortunes will be determined largely by his ability to bring in federal relief dollars -- a task he is suited to.

"There will be no federal account that he won't know about or tap into," says Ed Gillespie, a Barbour protege who served as RNC chairman until last year.

"He knows what to ask Thad Cochran to do, and what not to ask him," Rogers says, referring to one of Mississippi's Republican senators and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who will hold great influence over how federal relief money will be spent. "He knows where FEMA money is. He knows how it all works."
I remember hearing Barbour speak on TV during his tenure at the RNC during the Clinton era, and I loved the guy. I called a political consultant friend of mine who had worked with Barbour at the RNC to tell him what a great job Barbour had done on TV, and I joked about how he should run for president. I would obviously have to check him out more closely, but can you imagine how odd that would seem -- a Jewish guy born in New York supporting a Bourbon-drinking, back-slapping politico from Mississippi?