Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wasn’t supposed to assume the chairmanship of the Republican Governor’s Association until sometime next year, but when he arrives in Iowa this afternoon, Barbour will already be the RGA chairman, a role which will be very helpful if he has his eye on the presidency in 2012.
Barbour took control of the RGA yesterday after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford resigned as chairman following a bizarre absence which led to the discovery of an affair between Sanford and a woman for Argentina.
In a statement about Governor Sanford’s ordeal Barbour said, “The news revealed today hurts all of us who have gotten to know Governor Sanford over the years, and so it is with regret that the RGA accepted Governor Sanford’s resignation as chairman. While this news is deeply disappointing, I also know it’s important to remain focused on the future and Governor Sanford’s resignation allows him and us to do just that. The RGA has an important task over the next two years. I am committed to seeing it through and confident we will succeed.”
While Sanford’s political career may very well be over, the RGA and Barbour could benefit immensely from having 18 months to shape and mold the organization. Many governors have chaired the RGA, but none have had the knowledge and skill set that Barbour is able to bring to the position.
As Chairman of the RNC, Barbour played a critical role in the Republican Revolution of 1994. In that cycle, Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives, and 8 seats in the Senate. While Newt Gingrich often gets most of the credit for the Republican’s success in 1994, Barbour and the RNC played a critical role in implementing the Contract with America. In his time as time as RNC chair, Barbour also proved to be shrewd fundraiser, strong communicator, and an excellent campaigner.
Barbour’s 18 month chairmanship of the RGA could also be beneficial if he is eyeing a 2012 run for the presidency. Nobody in recent memory has used the RGA chairmanship to benefit a political career more than Mitt Romney did in 2006. Not only does the position allow a potential presidential candidate the ability to travel across the county to help elect Republican governors, it also allows you to develop and expand a nationwide donor network and build relationships in critical states like Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, which will all have hotly contested gubernatorial campaigns in 2010.
The Chairman of the RGA also gets to dole out a lot of money to Republican candidates across the country. In 2006, the RGA contributed $1.4 million to Jim Nussle’s gubernatorial campaign. In one instance, I remember Mitt Romney coming to Iowa to headline a fundraising event for Nussle in Dubuque. While there, Romney personally delivered to Nussle a check for $500,000. Someone in a position who can distribute that kind of money has an easy time making friends in states like Iowa or South Carolina.
While Romney was good at passing out RGA funds and contributions from his Commonwealth PAC, he was unable to help deliver many gubernatorial victories. 2006 was a horrible year for Republicans, and while Romney is an astute businessman, he left the political decisions up to his paid staff. This is where Romney and Barbour couldn’t be more different.
Barbour is more than an elected official who is the figurehead of a political operation. He’s been the political operative in the trenches of a campaign, and he understands the difference between a winning and losing campaign. Before serving as the RNC Chairman, Barbour cut his teeth in politics as the executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party. He later served in the Reagan administration as Political Director and then as the Special Assistant to the President on Political Affairs. Barbour’s past political experience combined with his success in defeating an incumbent Democrat Governor and then winning re-election shows just how skilled in politics he is.
Barbour also will have a much better environment working in his favor than Romney and his successors had at the RGA. While the Republican brand remains tarnished, there are clear signs that a tide has shifted back which gives many Republican’s hope in the next election.
With Barbour visiting the state tonight to help raise money for the Republican Party of Iowa, we simply cannot pass up the opportunity of looking at Barbour’s prospects in Iowa if he does decide to run for President in 2012. Below are some of the advantages that Barbour brings to a caucus campaign that were not discussed earlier.
Barbour’s Iowa Connection: Many presidential candidates build relationships with Iowans before they run for president, but not many can count on a former trusted operative moving to the first in the nation caucus state. Many candidates hire politically talented operatives to help them navigate Iowa’s political waters. Some even start long before they are mentioned as potential presidential candidates. For example, Mitt Romney’s direct mail vendor in his 2004 gubernatorial campaign was David Kochel, an Iowa operative who lives in Des Moines. Romney, who also served as the Chairman of the RGA, chose an Iowan, Gentry Collins, to serve as its Executive Director. Both Kochel and Collins played important roles in Romney’s Iowa caucus campaign.
Barbour’s Iowa connection runs much deeper than hiring a couple of political operatives a few years before running for office. His former Deputy Political Director at the RNC now calls Iowa home. Ruth Haus worked for Barbour during the four years he chaired the RNC. While at the RNC, Haus was one of eight people who worked on the Contract with America, and she is still very fond of her former boss.
When asked what she thought of the prospect of Barbour running for President in 2012, Haus said, “I’d join his campaign in a heartbeat.” Haus is currently the President of Living History Farms, the former Executive Director of the Des Moines symphony, and she has some Iowa caucus experience of her own.
After her stint with the RNC, Haus was the Deputy Campaign manager for Steve Forbes’ 2000 presidential campaign, which is where she met her husband, Bob Haus, who has a long history in Iowa politics. In addition to working on Forbes’ 2000 campaign, Bob served as State Director of Fred Thompson’s campaign in 2008, managed Phil Gramm’s 1996 caucus campaign and Senator Grassley’s 1992 campaign.
Bob and Ruth also own a media firm, Eagle Media, and both were instrumental in the planning and production of the Republican Party of Iowa’s 2007 Iowa Straw Poll.
Term Limited: Building the type of organization a candidate needs to win in Iowa takes time. Iowa caucus goers have never relied on slick mailers or TV ads to form their opinions on the presidential candidates that stroll through here every four to eight years. Iowans want to look the candidates in the eye and ask the tough questions. Even then, it might take a couple more visits to win over their support. Having to leave the governorship of Mississippi because of term limits means that he would not have to answer the questions about whether he’s seeking re-election to his current position or not. Barbour can create his own time table and stick to it.
Disaster Recovery: If there is one local issue that Iowan’s care deeply about it’s the recovery from the 2008 floods. The impact that this local issue will have on the 2012 caucuses will depend on how well the state is able to recover. If the issue is still on people’s minds, and if Iowa’s second largest city is still trying to recover, Barbour’s ability to help Mississippi recover following Hurricane Katrina could be an issue on which he could capitalize here in Iowa.
Details about the Barbour’s Visit to Iowa:
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will make his way to Iowa tonight to headline the Iowa GOP’s Night of the Rising Stars event. The event will be held at Hoyt Sherman Place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person to attend and can be reserved by calling 515-282-8105.
The Iowa Republican, American Future Fund, Iowa Progress Project, and The Bean Walker are hosting a join Conservative Tailgate before the event. The tailgate will offer free food and beverage and will be held just two blocks from Hoyt Sherman Place. The tailgate will be held at the home of Doug and Rochelle Burnett at 1510 Center Street, Des Moines from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Please RSVP by clicking here.
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