Haley Barbour’s inside game

at 07:53 AM ET, 03/21/2011

Haley Barbour will travel to Nevada on Tuesday to meet with Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and have lunch with a handful of state legislators, a visit that suggest the Mississippi governor will make a major play in the Silver State caucus in early 2012.

While Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have received the lion’s share of attention from 2012 wannabes, Nevada is slated to be the third state to vote — on Feb. 18 — in the presidential primary process. In 2008, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses easily, with more than 50 percent of the vote in a still-crowded field; that result had many potential 2012 candidates shying from the state early on.

The Nevada trip is the latest in a very busy schedule for Barbour of late, as he prepares for a near-certain presidential announcement next month. Barbour spoke to the California Republican convention over the weekend, stopped in Iowa last week, will be back in the Hawkeye State later this week and will be in New Hampshire on March 27 and 28.

Barbour has also made news with a series of high-profile staff hires in early states, the latest being Sally Bradshaw, a longtime adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (Bradshaw worked for Romney in 2008.)

“I’ve known Haley for a long time, and I’m convinced he’s the right person for the job,” Bradshaw said in an email to The Fix on Sunday night. “With Haley, what you see is what you get; he’s not afraid to speak the truth and be bold in the face of challenges.” Of Bradshaw, Bush said: “[Barbour] is fortunate to have her if he runs.”

Barbour has also signed on Jim Dyke, a former Republican National Committee communications director, to serve as an adviser to his political action committee, and Mike Dennehy, who will help Barbour in New Hampshire.

Add it all up and it’s clear that Barbour is playing the inside game very aggressively, matching the behind-the-scenes efforts of Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

That Barbour is excelling at the inside game is not terribly surprising, given that he has spent decades cultivating relationships among elected officials and high-level operatives. Essentially everyone in GOP circles knows and like Barbour.

To win the presidential nomination, however, Barbour has to not only prove himself among insiders, which he is well on his way to doing, but also among average voters who know nothing of the inside game. Barbour has struggled far more in that latter category, finding himself caught in a series of negative headlines regarding race.

Staying on message — a message that early signs indicate will focus on his understanding of how to turn the economy around — is critical for Barbour. Without that, visits to early states and victories in the fight for staff talent will be quickly forgotten.

Tennant creeping up on Tomblin: West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) is neck and neck with acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) in a new poll set to be released by Tennant’s campaign today.

The poll, which was conducted by Greenberg Quinlian Rosner and obtained by The Fix, shows Tomblin at 31 percent in the special election Democratic primary, with Tennant close behind at 27 percent. Among Democratic primary voters, the two have identical 45 percent favorable ratings and similar unfavorables (12 percent for Tennant and 15 percent for Tomblin).

But they’re not the only candidates in the race. State Treasurer John Perdue is at 14 percent on the ballot test, while two other candidates are at 5 percent.

The poll shows Tennant in better position than a poll conducted for Tomblin’s campaign a month ago, which had Tomblin at 35 percent and Tennant at 22.

The primary will be held May 14, with the special election set for Oct. 4. The favorite on the GOP side is former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.

Manchin to resist lifting debt ceiling: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will announce today that he will not vote to raise the debt ceiling “unless the vote is linked to a real budget plan that begins to fix our fiscal mess.”

Manchin, who will deliver the remarks to students at the University of Charleston, becomes a pivotal vote in the looming battle over the debt ceiling, with Republicans holding the debt ceiling vote as a bargaining chip in the current budget battle. According to estimates, the United States is set to hit its current debt ceiling between April 15 and the end of May. At that point, not raising the ceiling risks the country defaulting on its debts.

Republicans and Democrats are currently battling over a long-term budget, and Manchin has occupied the territory between the two parties, pushing for Republicans to cut more precisely and Democrats and Obama to get more serious about making cuts.

Obama gets hit from the right and left on Libya: The administration’s handling of the intervention in Libya is getting blowback from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put out a statement this weekend calling on Obama to better define the goal of the mission. “Before any further military commitments are made, the administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved,” Boehner said.

Added Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on CBS’s Face the Nation: “We really have not discovered who it is in Libya we are trying to support. We had better get this straight from the beginning.”

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News Sunday: “I am very worried that we’re taking a back seat rather than a leadership role.”

Democratic leaders in Congress have been defending the president, and military leaders have tried to emphasize that the United States is not trying to topple the Libyan government. But liberal House Democrats reportedly protested Obama’s actions on a conference call Saturday, saying the president should have consulted Congress.

Tester and Rehberg in dead heat: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is in for a tough race with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), according to a new Mason-Dixon poll conducted for Lee Newspapers.

The poll shows Tester at 46 percent and Rehberg at 45 percent.

Though the head-to-head matchup is close, Tester leads Rehberg 49 percent to 37 percent among independents — a key demographic in the race. If Rehberg can win the independent vote, he will likely win the race.

Fixbits:

As expected, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for the special election in former Rep. Chris Lee’s (R-N.Y.) district. She faces state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin (R).

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has tapped former Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner (R), who is considering a run for Senate, for a redistricting commission.

The latest Republican National Committee debt figure: $21 million.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin visited Israel Sunday.

At least six states are considering canceling or delaying their 2012 presidential primaries in order to save money.

Despite the criticis, Obama knows how to pick ‘em. His NCAA Tournament bracket is currently in the 99th percentile on ESPN.com.

Must-reads:

Utah bucks conservative trend on illegal immigration” — Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times

Louisiana’s post-census redistricting battle begins” — AP

Veepstakes kickoff: 14 Capitol Hill contenders” — Christina Bellantoni, CQ-Roll Call

Potential GOP candidates face ‘birther’ question” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

 
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