- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Haley Barbour wasn’t born yesterday — or, as the Mississippian puts it: “I know I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”

The former Republican National Committee chairman always has a smile on his face.

Ask him how he is fixed financially for his battle to unseat Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, in next week’s election, he might whisper, “Heck, I got enough cash to burn a wet mule.”

Coming from just about anyone else, this down-home talk might come across as phony — but not to Mississippians and the folks who have known him during his two decades in Washington, where he owns an influential lobbying firm and a posh steakhouse.

“People who know me know it’s genuine,” he said Sunday in an interview.

He sounds as if he has never left Yazoo City, Miss., where he maintains a home and where his wife, Marsha, has spent most of her time.

Mr. Barbour’s telephone calls get priority attention from the most senior officials in the White House and from members of both political parties in both houses of Congress.

His chief selling point during his first campaign for public office is that he has used his time in Washington well and can bring home the “bacon” for Mississippi.

Mr. Barbour sells as well down home as on the banks of the Potomac. In an Oct. 21-23 poll conducted for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and the Associated Press, he ran ahead of Mr. Musgrove 50 percent to 45 percent, with a margin of error of four percentage points.

While 68 percent of Mr. Musgrove’s supporters say they definitely will vote to re-elect him, 74 percent of Mr. Barbour’s support is that strong.

A key advantage for Mr. Barbour is Mr. Musgrove’s 45 percent disapproval rating, compared with 37 percent for Mr. Barbour.

“Everything now turns upon turnout, and everything we do next week will be to increase turnout,” Mr. Barbour said. “A big turnout helps Republicans. A small turnout helps Democrats.”

Not having been born last night, Mr. Barbour, 56, knew from the start that beating Mr. Musgrove would be a challenge.

For one thing, both men sound equally conservative on basic issues such as abortion, gun control, homosexual “marriage,” tax increases and tort reform. But Mr. Barbour says Mr. Musgrove has supported 11 tax increases.

In his adult lifetime, Mr. Barbour says, “there has never been a greater difference between the two candidates for governor of Mississippi.”

“I’m committed to establishing discipline in schools and I’m for requiring voters to have a picture ID,” he said. “And I’m for more tort reform.”

The political trend in the state has been turning toward Republicans, whose party claims both U.S. senators and two of four House members. “We are completing the transition to a two-party state, and that’s good for democracy,” said state Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole, who notes that the state Legislature remains lopsidedly Democratic.

Mr. Cole says he personally likes Mr. Barbour and other Republicans, although he disagrees with them politically.

Mississippi has had only one Republican governor in modern times. That was Kirk Fordice, who once got into hot water with the national Republican leadership for making the politically incorrect observation that the United States was a Christian nation. Mr. Barbour joined Republicans who urged Mr. Fordice to recant. He did.

Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned for Mr. Barbour yesterday in Mississippi, and President Bush is on deck for two more rallies there Saturday.

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