Obama, too, is less popular than he was when he was sworn in two years ago. But he comes to the race with the significant advantages of incumbency. As he steams ahead with fundraising and organizing, Republicans are under growing pressure to tamp down concerns about whether they can find a candidate capable of defeating him.
Barbour registered in the single digits in early polls, so his decision will not have a dramatic impact on the contest, at least in terms of voter support. But it will give some candidates an opportunity to nail down some of the volunteers who were committed or leaning toward Barbour as well as money that would have been his.
As a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association, Barbour is the consummate member of the GOP establishment and is widely respected for his political smarts. Other candidates will compete for his endorsement.
His decision not to enter the contest, he said in a statement, grew out of his conclusion that he lacked the necessary fire in the belly. But friends of Barbour, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share insight about his decision, said he had come to the conclusion that Republicans can win only if they are totally focused on serious issues and not distracted by some of the side issues, such as Obama’s birthplace, that have arisen in the early going.
Barbour’s decision may reflect what some Democratic strategists were saying privately: that, for all his political smarts, he would fizzle as a presidential candidate. After all, he carried significant baggage. He was a lobbyist for tobacco companies and other interests, and had stumbled on racial issues over the past six months.
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.
A close adviser to Daniels said Monday that, “on the margins, it makes it more likely he will run.” But the Indiana governor has been beset by doubts and by what friends say is opposition within his family. He issued a statement praising Barbour as a leader of the party but offered no hint as to his own thinking.