The Washington Post

Haley Barbour meets New Hampshire

Can Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour convince New Hampshire voters he’s like them? (AP Photo/Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Alex Hicks Jr.)

In two events Thursday morning — one at a French Canadian diner that boasted of its “Chinese Pie” (a shepherd’s pie-like concoction) and the other at a gun shop that boasted a “Fire Pelosi” sign at its entrance — Barbour did everything he could to bridge the geographic and cultural gap between Mississippi and New Hampshire.

“Barbour is an old French name,” he told Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas at an early morning gathering at Chez Vachon in the Queen City.

At Rileys Gun Shop here in Hooksett, Barbour told of his love for dove hunting and even invited the store owner to come visit the Magnolia State. “You’ll like Mississippi for hunting,” Barbour told Ralph Demicco. “I’ll buy you a beer while you’re there.”

Barbour, who continues to maintain that he has not yet decided whether or not to run for president, remains an asterisk in every early poll of New Hampshire voters.

But for the Mississippi governor, the challenge is less in getting his name better known among voters in early states like New Hampshire and Iowa — he is expected to be among the strongest fundraisers in the race — than in convincing those voters that a man who has made his political career in the deep south is best positioned among 2012 candidates to represent them.

“I feel very at home here,” Barbour said in response to a question about whether a southern governor can sell in the heart of the Northeast. “It’s very much like Mississippi.”

The question is whether voters respond in kind — particularly given that Mitt Romney, who spent four years as the governor of neighboring Massachusetts, is in the race and is regarded as a clear frontrunner in the Granite State’s primary, which is currently scheduled for Feb. 14, 2012.

One visit does not a conclusion make although Barbour did seem to strike a chord when discussing his work as governor during and after Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast oil spill; “I have had experience with crises that not every governor has had to deal with,” Barbour said.

What Barbour must hope is that New Hampshire voters will move quickly from focusing on his southern roots to a broader examination of the message of his budding campaign.

In that, Barbour seemed to subtly invoke the straight-talking appeal of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who carried New Hampshire in the 2000 and 2008 primaries.

“I do think the American people are looking for plain spoken common sense,” Barbour said. “They are sick of the happy talk.”

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.


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