Haley Barbour, the former head of the Republican National Committee, is considering a bid to run for governor of Mississippi in 2003.
Mr. Barbour, who traces his Mississippi heritage back for generations, now works as a lobbyist in Washington. He said he already returns to his home in Mississippi every weekend, but now he will step up his traveling schedule to scout out a run for the governor’s mansion.
“This year I’m going to spend a lot more time than that to put myself in a position to make an informed decision about running for governor next year,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m serious about it. I’m very interested, but I don’t have to make a decision until up in the fall, and I’m not going to.”
“When the election comes, I’ll be 56 years old, and if I’m ever going to do this, this would be the year. Mississippi’s been good to me; politics has been good to me. This is a chance to give back and try to do more to help our state,” he said. “There are a lot of considerations personal, family, political that affect that, but that’s why I am taking so much of this year for that purpose.”
In 1982, in Mr. Barbour’s only prior run for public office, he failed to unseat Sen. John C. Stennis, who served in the Senate for more than 40 years. Despite this defeat, Mr. Barbour’s credentials for any possible gubernatorial bid are considered strong he was White House political director from 1985 to 1987 and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.
In addition to his lobbying duties, he is also the chief fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Although Mr. Barbour said he will wait until after the congressional elections this year to make an announcement, the former RNC chief’s interest in the race is a hot topic among Mississippi politicos.
“Whether or not he runs, he’s doing everything he needs to run,” said Brian Perry, editor of MagnoliaReport.com, an on-line report surveying Mississippi politics.
“He is widely respected and loved by Mississippi Republicans,” said Jim Herring, chairman of the state Republican Party. Mr. Barbour is scheduled to attend Republican Committee meetings in two populous counties this month and the next, Mr. Herring said.
Other Republicans and Democrats are considering a run for the governor’s office as well, including incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. His victory in 1999 followed the closest governor’s race in state history.
Some of Mr. Barbour’s supporters have gone the extra mile to let him know they want him to run. The John Grotta Co., a Republican mailing house that did work for Mr. Barbour when he was head of the RNC, has registered the Web sites, barbour2003.org and barbour2003.com. Moreover, the person in charge of the Mississippi State Republican Party’s Web site has registered haleybarbour.com and haleybarbour.org.
Mr. Barbour said he didn’t even know about those Web sites until Mr. Grotta told him about them. “John [Grotta] just called me one day and he said, ‘For your birthday I registered [the Web site]’ and he laughed and I laughed,” Mr. Barbour said.
Mr. Grotta did not return a phone call, but Josh Gregory, a member of the Mississippi Republican’s staff, said he hopes Mr. Barbour runs for the governorship.