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Asked about the state of the Republican Party, he rejected the notion that the once “big-tent” party of former President Ronald Reagan is now so marginalized that is has become merely a regional party limited to the South and Southwest.

“Half the governors in New England are Republicans,” Mr. Barbour said, pointing to GOP chief executives in Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut. “Can we compete in New England or anywhere else in the country? Absolutely.”

He also said the 2010 elections are a good chance for Republicans to hold those governorships and pick up others in northeastern and industrial Midwestern states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.

“I’m really not worried about the ‘regional party’ thing sticking because I’m seeing these candidates that are coming forward,” he said.

Mr. Barbour said it’s better for Republicans to go into next year’s elections having stopped Democrats’ agendas, rather than letting Democrats get their way on health care and climate bills and then explaining to voters the consequences.

“My view is it’s better to fight and win, in these particular two bills - that is especially the case because neither one of them goes into effect” for some years, he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.