Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who had been making campaign-style appearances in states crucial to the presidential-selection process, announced yesterday that he wouldn’t seek the White House in 2012.
“A candidate for president today is embracing a 10-year commitment to an all-consuming effort,” Barbour, a Republican, said in a statement released by his office. Saying that supporters would “expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate,” he added, “I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.”
He said he would keep his post as policy chairman of the Republican Governors Association and would work to help a Republican defeat President Barack Obama next year. His second term as Mississippi’s governor ends in January 2012, and under state law he can’t seek re-election.
As a fiscal and social conservative with an extensive record of promoting his party, Barbour would have enjoyed a strong base of support from Republican officials had he entered the race. His decision to take a pass leaves an opening for another candidate to vie for that support, said Frank Donatelli, a former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“Clearly there’s room for another right-of-center establishment candidate to get into this race,” Donatelli said.
Hurdles that Barbour, 63, would have faced included his background as a lobbyist and recent statements he made about racial relations in the South during the civil rights era.
“It’s hard for a governor from the Deep South to win the nomination,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “He had a lot of work to do.”
Among other Republicans, former Governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have established presidential exploratory committees, taking the first official step toward bids for the White House.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia on March 3 announced the establishment of a website to enable him to raise money and possibly run for president. Other prospective 2012 Republican candidates include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee; Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget; and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is stepping down as U.S. ambassador to China this month.
The lack of a clear Republican frontrunner has encouraged others, including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Tea Party favorite, to position themselves as potential candidates. Businessman Donald Trump also is flirting with seeking the Republican nomination, saying he will announce in June whether he will run.
Obama has already opened a 2012 re-election campaign headquarters in Chicago. He has raised millions of dollars in support of his campaign at events this month in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Barbour, who won his first gubernatorial term in November 2003, helped his state recover from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010. He has helped spur 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. Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in March, above the nationwide figure of 8.8 percent.
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 had made campaign-style appearances this year in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In March appearances in Iowa, he proposed cutting the defense budget, suggesting he might take a different approach to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the one advocated by many in his party.
National polls of Republican-leaning voters, though, showed him barely registering as a presidential candidate. He typically received three or fewer percentage points of support.
Along with building his backing, Barbour would have needed 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 also said the whites-only Citizens Council kept the peace in his hometown.
A lawyer, Barbour served in President Ronald Reagan’s White House and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997. He also worked as a lobbyist with the Washington-based Barbour, Griffith & Rogers Inc., now called BGR Group.
“Nobody has done more than Haley to build the Republican Party over the last three decades,” Pawlenty said in a statement after Barbour announced his decision. “When Republicans defeat Barack Obama next year, it will be thanks to the solid party foundation Haley helped build.”
Daniels, a close friend of Barbour, said he would have “made a great president.”
“I’d have been proud to try to help him had he chosen to run,” Daniels said in a statement.