The Washington Post

Could Barbour win Iowa?

Haley Barbour is doing what pols who want to win Iowa do: visit and practice retail politics. The Des Moines Register reports:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour gave Iowa Republicans a strong dose of fiscal conservatism — slash federal spending, lower taxes, create jobs in the private sector - in three public pitches Tuesday for his prospective presidential run.

It is also a reminder that even the former head of the RNC and a prominent governor starts with limited name recognition:

A recent Gallup poll showed that Barbour ranked toward the middle of 12 prospective Republican presidential candidates in name recognition among national Republicans, with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee at the top.

“The vast majority of Iowans have never heard of Haley Barbour,” he said. “That will be a challenge if I run. It’s a challenge that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton managed to deal with. I think it can be done.”

Barbour is counting on his experience as a longtime Republican stalwart — high-flying D.C. lobbyist, chairman of the Republican National Committee, experienced behind-the-scenes presidential campaigner and now lame-duck Mississippi governor — as a reason that Iowans might look past the bigger names and toward the 63-year-old.

But wait. Are those pluses or minuses? We are in the Tea Party era when Beltway politicians have to overcome resentment and suspicion. Particularly in Iowa, the Washington outsiders, not the polished insiders, have done well. Mike Huckabee, using his standing with Christian conservatism and populist themes beat the former Massachusetts governor and turnaround specialist Mitt Romney. Rather than boast that he is an expert lobbyist and mover-and-shaker inside the Beltway, Barbour might want to downplay those items on his resume.

In the Weekly Standard cover story by Andy Ferguson last year that triggered a controvery over Barbour’s comments on race, Barbour’s lobbying past was described this way:

Barbour embraced the new, unapologetic culture of lobbying with his customary skill and enthusiasm, and by the time he left his firm to run for governor, in 2002, his client list read like a corporate all-star roster: Microsoft, BellSouth, Pfizer, Citigroup, Delta, GlaxoSmithKline, Exxon. In 1991 he took on two partners to form a firm called BGR. Throughout the nineties it was routinely listed among the top five lobbying firms in Fortune magazine’s annual survey of Washington insiders. No insider was further inside than Barbour. In 1993, while working at BGR, he was elected chairman of the National Republican Committee. As chairman he was responsible for deciding which candidates would receive financial support from the RNC. If they won, they were grateful and would soon have the pleasure of being lobbied by the man who had decided to give them financial support. The conflict of interest was brazen but commonplace. . . .

So deeply was Barbour enmeshed in the money culture of Washington that he even put up money for a restaurant in partnership with Tommy Boggs, a fellow lobbyist (Democratic flavored) with a reputation as large as Barbour’s. Called the Caucus Room, it is less an eatery than a staging area for Washington operators. . . .

Feeding, funding, and finagling: Haley Barbour provided one-stop-shopping for all your Beltway needs.

It is not simply the atmospherics that are bad. The lobbying culture, as Andy Ferguson pointed out, perpetuates and lives off of a large federal government:

For all its certified Republican fondness for limited government, BGR was, like all Washington lobbying firms, a creature of big government. Big government is what made Haley Barbour rich. Without it no one would have needed to hire him to beg Congress or the executive branch for loopholes, exemptions, tax credits, line items, carve-outs, extenders, earmarks or any other of its infinite blandishments.

Isn’t that precisely the insiderism on which the Tea Party has declared war? It’s one thing to have that experience; it’s another to brag about it. Tea Partyers will, I suspect, not be enamored of war stories about Barbour’s ability to obtain what Tea Partyers would call “corporate welfare” for his clients.

Every candidate has weaknesses. But Barbour and Romney share a prickly one. The resume item they have bragged about ( lobbying and RomneyCare, respectively) may wind up being their undoing.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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