Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that, while Mitt Romney still can defeat Barack Obama, he must shift the focus of the last six weeks of the race to the president’s “policies, the failures of those policies and what Romney would do to get the country back on the right track.” Barbour is helping raise money for American Crossroads, the super-political action committee co-founded by Karl Rove, the former chief political adviser to President George W. Bush.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the former governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour. Thank you for joining us today, Haley.
HALEY BARBOUR: Al, thanks for having me.
HUNT: Mitt Romney has had a rough couple weeks since Labor Day. What does the Republican nominee need to do to get his campaign back on track?
BARBOUR: As long as the campaign coverage is about process, about polling, any time it’s not about jobs and the economy, and about serious policy and the results of policy, that’s bad for Romney. So he’s got to get the campaign back on the real issues that Americans talk about at the dinner table, jobs, the economy.
HUNT: Why hasn’t he done that? That hasn’t been the message he’s conveyed.
BARBOUR: I can’t - I can’t answer that question. But the good news for Republicans is, having not done that for a month, the Gallup poll yesterday was a tie. Rasmussen’s poll, which was the closest to the actual outcome in 2008, is within the margin of error.
So, you know, everybody criticizes Romney’s campaign for this, that and the other - and I’m not an apologist for him - but he’s even. He’s still at a place to win this election. And I think it’s his to win. But to do it, it has to be an election about Obama’s policies, the failures of those policies, and what Romney would do to get the country back on the right track.
HUNT: Is his famous or infamous 47 percent remark at a private fundraiser - should he - would he have been better off by simply apologizing, as Obama did with his indiscreet remark four years ago about guns and religion? Should Mitt Romney have just said, hey, you know, I made a boo-boo?
BARBOUR: Of course, I don’t know what the question was. Obviously, in this - this thing that was videotaped surreptitiously, he was answering a question. I don’t know what the question was. But it is not correct that 47 percent of Americans are on means-tested entitlements, on welfare. Many, many of those people are retired military. They’re Social Security -
BARBOUR: - and whose votes he’s going to get.
HUNT: That’s why I say, should he - should he have just simply apologized in the beginning, said, hey, you know, people make - make silly remarks sometimes, we all do it?
BARBOUR: Well, or - you know, perhaps a better way to say it is, you know, I made a mistake on that - on that number.
BARBOUR: But, again, as long as this is about process and as long as this is - we’re talking about this and we’re not talking about why the Federal Reserve Board thought they had to take unprecedented action to create jobs, because the Obama administration’s policies are not creating the jobs.
HUNT: But, Haley, we’re now talking another week, there’s going to be a reset. The candidate’s going to get to those issues you’re talking about. Why didn’t that happen in Tampa?
BARBOUR: Well, you know, again, I’m not trying to be here to be an apologist. The main thing for me is, even though it’s Sept. 21, on Sept. 20, the race was a tie. And so Romney is blessed that, while he hasn’t done the things that I would have recommended, and while the coverage hasn’t been what I would have wanted, he’s still in an even race. And now he’s got to make this an election about what Obama’s policies have been, how and why they’ve failed, and then what he would do differently and why that would -
HUNT: Let me ask you a final - a final Romney question. Let’s ignore the horse-race questions for a second. With six- and-a-half weeks left, though, he’s still viewed negatively. Take the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Bill McInturff and Peter Hart, other than Bloomberg, the best poll that there is. They have Obama up 11 points on economic vision. But looking out for the middle class, Obama 53, Romney 34. The middle class determines elections.
BARBOUR: Well, of course they do, because most of the people in America are middle class. Well, look, Romney came out of the primary with the nomination in an even race. Obama’s strategy was the 1996 strategy that the Democrats had of making Dole unacceptable. And so they spent $150 million more or less telling people that Romney was a vulture capitalist, that he was - didn’t care about people like them, that he was some kind of plutocrat married to a known equestrian.
HUNT: And it worked.
BARBOUR: Well, it - well, of course it’s worked some, because it was generally unanswered.
BARBOUR: Yet, when it went to the convention, it was a tie. Ryan pulled them back up. We got our convention boost two weeks before the convention, and it was a tie. Now we come out of the Democrat convention, Obama got a nice boost -
HUNT: And you didn’t get much of a boost out of Tampa.
BARBOUR: Well, we really got ours before Tampa.
HUNT: OK, I see.
BARBOUR: You look at how - how Romney went up in the polls 3 or 4 points.
BARBOUR: Now we’re back to where it’s a tie. And so I think that’s the real state of play, why? Not because people love Mitt Romney. They don’t know very much good about Mitt Romney. But they know Obama’s policies don’t deserve to be re-elected.
HUNT: Let’s turn to the race for the Congress. I think almost everyone agrees the Republicans will hold the House. A couple months ago, there was a lot of optimism about the Senate. Now, when you look at polls - and I don’t know how reliable any of these polls are, but I look at them from Maine to Massachusetts, North Dakota, Virginia, they all seem to be tilting Democratic. Why?
BARBOUR: Well, I think, first of all, it’s always going to have been a really tight race. Somebody’s going to end up with 50, 51, 52 in the Senate. We were never shooting fish in a barrel.
But the Democrats have some - some of their best - you look at Tim Kaine here, who’s been governor of Virginia, I think far more liberal than Virginia, very tied to Obama, but he’s an attractive, good candidate. He’s been governor here, just like Mark -
BARBOUR: Yeah, Mark Warner has been governor here. They got the best candidate they could have in North Dakota. And I think we’ll win North Dakota. I think we’ll win Montana. I think we’ll win Virginia.
HUNT: But they’re tough. They’re all tough races.
BARBOUR: But the fact - they’re all really tough races, because they got good candidates, and we kicked away a race in - in Missouri.
HUNT: Well, I was going to talk to you about that, because Todd Akin this week, as you know, said that - he said you’re the godfather of D.C. party bosses and you’re trying to avenge your personal brand in getting him out.
BARBOUR: Well, maybe I’m the godfather of Yazoo City party bosses. But, look, here’s my complaint about Todd Akin, who I couldn’t pick out of a line-up with the Spice Girls. Here’s a guy that Harry Reid and Claire McCaskill, the Democrat senator, put nearly $2 million into Todd Akin’s effort to win the Republican nomination. I am not interested in electing Harry Reid’s favorite Republican to the United States Senate.
HUNT: You don’t think he’s going to drop out now, though, do you?
BARBOUR: Apparently not. He says he isn’t. I take him at his word. But, look, that’s - I say stupid stuff sometimes. I’m not so balled up here on stupid stuff. I just don’t want us having Harry Reid’s favorite Republican running against Claire McCaskill, to which they were so dedicated they put more than $1 million, almost $2 million behind Akin to win the Republican primary.
HUNT: Will money make a difference overall nationally on either the presidential or the congressional election?
BARBOUR: You know, my view has always been, you’ve got to have enough money. Necessarily spending the most money is not the point. But you’ve got to have -
HUNT: Both sides will have enough?
BARBOUR: Both of them will have plenty of money.
HUNT: Haley Barbour, you are the godfather of Republican politics, and that is a compliment. Thank you very, very much for being with us today.
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