Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, stopped in Barack Obama’s adopted hometown yesterday to criticize the president’s stewardship of the U.S. economy as he prepared to take his message to Iowa.
“For more than two years, this administration and its Congress have pursued policy after policy that created economic uncertainty or directly hurt the economy,” said Barbour, a former lobbyist and onetime chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In his remarks to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Barbour condemned Obama for what he called “explosive spending, skyrocketing deficits, gargantuan debt, calls for record tax increases, government-run health care, out-of-control regulations and anti-growth energy policy.”
Barbour, 63, is speaking today at a party fundraising dinner in Davenport, Iowa, the state where the first presidential nomination voting is planned in less than 11 months.
He is the latest potential Republican challenger to Obama’s re-election bid to make speeches recently in Chicago. Others who preceded him during the past five weeks include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
“The policies embraced by the White House show very little understanding of how our economy actually works,” Barbour said. “They seem to have no trust in business. No sense of how entrepreneurs build new companies. No insight into how small businesses create jobs. Think about it: Is there anybody in the current administration who ever signed the front side of a paycheck?”
William M. Daley, a former investment banker, was hired as White House chief of staff in January to try to address complaints that the administration needs stronger ties to the business community. Daley, the son and brother of mayors of Chicago, previously was vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and president of SBC Communications Inc., now AT&T Inc. He also served on the boards of Boeing Co. and Abbott Laboratories.
National polls of Republicans have shown Barbour barely registering as a presidential candidate, typically receiving 3 or fewer percentage points of support.
Along with building his backing, Barbour would need to address criticism about comments he has made on racial matters, an inescapable issue in his home state where segregationist policies and violence disenfranchised blacks for generations.
The Dec. 27 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine quoted Barbour saying that as a teenager he found watching girls more important than hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak. He said the whites-only Citizens Council kept the peace in his hometown.
Shortly after the magazine article surfaced, he ordered the Jan. 7 release of two black sisters imprisoned since 1994 for stealing what their supporters say was $11. His stipulation: One must give the other a kidney to spare the state the cost of dialysis.
Yesterday, Barbour’s press secretary, Dan Taylor, resigned after remarks he meant as jokes about the earthquake in Japan and former Attorney General Janet Reno were made public, the Associated Press reported. The comments, included in a daily e-mailed news digest Taylor prepared, were parenthetical remarks about events from a website listing historic occasions that occurred on a specific day, the AP said. Taylor told the AP he was stepping down because he did not want his poor decisions to reflect on Barbour.
Katrina, Oil Spill
Barbour, who became governor in January 2004, helped his state through the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and 2010’s Gulf Coast oil spill. He has lured employers, including General Electric Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., to expand in Mississippi. Still, the state traditionally ranks last or near last in per-capita income and educational attainment.
In January, Mississippi’s unemployment was 10.1 percent, above the national unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in February.
Barbour in his Chicago speech called for corporate tax cuts, and also said U.S. energy exploration needs to be expanded.
“We need an administration that’s committed to more American energy, not strangling our own supplies, putting us even further at the mercy of often-hostile overseas oil producers,” he said.
Barbour earned a law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1973 and spent part of his career as a lobbyist with the Washington-based Barbour, Griffith & Rogers Inc., now called BGR Group. He also worked in President Ronald Reagan’s White House and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.
“I saw the sausage factory up close,” he said, referring to Washington’s legislative and policy process.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour helped his party capture the governorships of 11 states from Democrats in last November’s elections.
Barbour, who spoke with the help of a teleprompter, mocked Obama’s routine use of the machines.
“I hope you’ll forgive the teleprompter, but this is President Obama’s hometown, and, when in Rome, right?” he said.
No well-known Republicans have formally declared for the 2012 race, although Gingrich said on March 3 that he was starting a website to raise money and explore a run.
Four years ago, when no incumbent was in the presidential contest, a total of 17 Republicans and Democrats had signaled their candidacies or set up exploratory committees by the end of January 2007, including Obama, a native of Hawaii, and then-Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, who now serves as secretary of state.
Some of this cycle’s other prospective Republican candidates include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is stepping down as ambassador to China in April.
The lack of a clear Republican frontrunner has encouraged others, including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favorite, to position themselves for potential runs.
As he finished his speech yesterday, Barbour quoted one of Obama’s political heroes, Abraham Lincoln.
“A different American president from Illinois, a truly great one, once made a simple, yet profound statement about the proper course of economic policy in America: “I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.”