Barbour’s Surprise Adds Further Uncertainty to GOP Presidential Field

BY Terence Burlij  April 26, 2011 at 8:12 AM EDT

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour speaks at a spaghetti dinner in Tiffin, Iowa, last month. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

The Morning Line

Surprise. That one word, more than any other, summed up the reaction to Haley Barbour’s decision not to run for president next year — and for good reason.

The Mississippi governor had been doing all the things likely presidential candidates do: traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina; hiring campaign staff; working the phones with potential donors.

Despite those maneuvers, Gov. Barbour indicated Monday he lacked the “absolute fire in the belly” to commit with “total certainty” to what he called “an all-consuming effort.”

Gov. Barbour’s decision not to enter the 2012 fray comes just as the field is beginning to take shape, with the first GOP debate scheduled for Thursday, May 5, in Greenville, S.C.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz reports the decision could make it easier for one candidate in particular to move forward with a bid.

“The announcement will put new pressure on some fence-sitters to jump into the race. That pressure will fall most heavily on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has been considering a run for more than a year and is planning to decide in May.

“Daniels and Barbour are longtime friends and allies — Daniels said recently that if he didn’t run he might well endorse Barbour — and many Republicans assumed that it was unlikely that both would end up in the race.”

The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny looks at where Gov. Barbour’s supporters might turn.

“[H]is decision could help other contenders, including those trying to emerge as the leading alternative to Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, probably faces an easier time winning establishment support with Mr. Barbour out of the picture.

“Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House from Georgia, is now expected to be the only Southerner in the race. That could help him in the South Carolina primary, which follows the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

Of course, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee could spoil Gingrich’s lone-Southerner status if he entered the race. And there will almost certainly be a free-for-all among many of the top-tier candidates for Gov. Barbour’s would-be financial backers.

While Gov. Barbour may have been polling in the single digits in recent national polls, his Rolodex of Republican contacts developed during his years as Ronald Reagan’s political director, chairman of the Republican National Committee and head of the Republican Governors Association would have made any of his competitors jealous.

Then, of course, there are still the wildcards to consider, such as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, real estate mogul Donald Trump and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, with the first two making the most serious noise about running.

It all adds up to a Republican field filled with uncertainty, meaning Gov. Barbour’s surprise is likely to be the first of many more in the months ahead.

THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

Texas Republican and Internet sensation Rep. Ron Paul will announce an exploratory presidential campaign committee Tuesday, the National Journal reports, marking a third run at the White House.

The libertarian-minded, 12-term congressman shook up the 2008 Republican primary debates as the only candidate to oppose the Iraq War. He ignited a passionate grassroots following on the Internet, raising $6 million in one day during one of his “money bomb” fund-raisers. While Rep. Paul had no real chance of winning in 2008, he managed a second place showing in the Nevada caucuses.

The 2010 primary could provide a platform for him to drive debates toward his small-government ideals.

“I don’t even believe in the income tax,” Rep. Paul told Stephen Colbert on Monday’s “The Colbert Report.”

The representative nicknamed “Dr. No” for opposing even resolutions to name buildings after people didn’t vote on the House GOP’s initial spending plan and voted against two subsequent measures to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

And Rep. Paul’s constant criticism of the Federal Reserve, which played a large role in the response to the financial crisis, will almost certainly be on display if he makes it to the debates.

While he could push the debate to the right on spending and the deficit, his isolationist foreign policy views aren’t likely to match with any of the likely 2012 candidates, presenting the potential for more exchanges like this back-and-forth with Rudy Giuliani over the war in Iraq.

NO MORE SUBSIDIES?

As the average gas price in America ticks up to almost $4 a gallon, both the Obama administration and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are trying to assure voters that they’re doing something about it.

Rep. Boehner turned some heads Monday when he told ABC News he’s open to considering cuts to subsidies for oil companies.

“It’s certainly something we should be looking at,” he said. “We’re in a time when the federal government’s short on revenues. They ought to be paying their fair share.”

Rep. Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, walked back the comments by telling the National Journal there was no planned bipartisan action on subsidies.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday, “Given the constraints that we are under, given the need to tighten our belts, given the need to reduce the deficit, this President feels very strongly that it is inappropriate to continue those subsidies.”

President Obama and fellow Democrats have repeatedly called for an end to billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsides given to the oil industry. Meanwhile, Republicans say the president should allow for more domestic oil production.

The rise in gas prices could be a serious problem for the president. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that seven in ten respondents said high gas prices presented a financial hardship and that 60 percent of independents affected by high prices would not vote for President Obama in 2012.

BUDGET POLL

A USA Today-Gallup poll released Monday had plenty for both parties to chew on when it comes to the upcoming battle over the 2012 budget.

Here are the key figures from Susan Page:

  • “Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed, 71%, worry that the Democrats’ plan “won’t go far enough to fix the problem”; 62 percent fear they might use the deficit as an excuse to raise taxes.

  • Nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, fear the Republicans’ deficit plan will take away needed protections for the poor and the disadvantaged and will “protect the rich at the expense of everyone else.”

What these numbers show is a country divided over how to address its fiscal problems. The vast majority of those surveyed said spending, not a lack of tax revenue, was to blame for the deficit. But the public doesn’t appear to be open to the proposed cuts to entitlements that would put a serious dent in government spending.

Unless those two views can be reconciled, there’s little incentive for either side in the debate to move away from their entrenched positions.

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