- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour yesterday said that he is too conservative to be John McCain’s running mate but that the Arizona senator’s maverick reputation will help him in an election in which moderates and independents will be more important than in recent years.

Mr. Barbour also urged Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, not to name his pick for vice president until after the Democrats’ convention, when he can draw the sharpest distinction between the parties.

Mr. McCain will depend on “persuasion” to snare independents and disgruntled Democrats on Nov. 4, unlike George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections when victory depended on maximizing the turnout of each party’s hard-core partisans, said Mr. Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman.

“I am a lot more conservative than John McCain,” Mr. Barbour told The Washington Times at a luncheon meeting with the newspaper’s editors and reporters. “It may help him that he is not as conservative as I am.”

More Democrats than before are going to be unhappy with their party’s nominee, whether it’s current Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton loyalists. Such Democrats may be ripe for the picking by Mr. McCain, a maverick Republican admired by many Democrats and independents for his own occasional and unpredictable independence. But Republicans are also poised for defections.

“I think there are a lot more Democrats who will vote for McCain this time than for President Bush last time, and a lot more Republicans who [will] vote for one of the Democrats this time,” he said.

Mr. Barbour acknowledged that at this point, the Republican electorate is missing some of the intensity of past elections. But the former Republican national chairman predicted that things will change dramatically once the Democrats have settled on a standard-bearer.

That’s when the McCain-GOP strategy will be to point out how far to the left the Democratic nominee is from most Americans, who are still in the center-right spot they have been for decades.

Asked whether Republicans now are positioned to get out the vote, Mr. Barbour said, “I don’t think the intensity for the volunteers is there,” but that, too, would improve in the fall when Republicans, including the most conservative among them, focus on the differences between Mr. McCain and the Democrat alternative.

Mr. Barbour — who had sharply disagreed with Mr. McCain’s signature maverick effort, his push for restrictions on campaign financing — also said he disagrees with Mr. McCain’s attempt last week to get the North Carolina Republican Party not to run a television commercial that attempts to link two Democratic gubernatorial candidates with Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“These two Democrats endorsed Obama. Everything is fair game,” Mr. Barbour said. “In a presidential election, people consider all sorts of things in a presidential candidate’s background. It’s the most personal office in the world.”

He said both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have Senate voting records that are leagues to the left of Mr. McCain’s. If Mr. Obama wins the nomination, he would be the first Democratic presidential candidate to be to be more liberal than the Senate’s only self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Mr. Barbour has won plaudits from both parties for the way that he handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which rammed the brunt of its destructive force into the Mississippi coast.

He declined to comment on claims that neighboring Louisiana was dysfunctional in responding to the storm but said he was moved by the way the people in his state avoided complaining about their hurricane losses and instead relied on themselves, their neighbors and whatever resources they could muster on their own to rebuild their lives, their homes and their businesses.

“Every bit of our infrastructure was destroyed,” he said.

He did fault Louisiana’s two U.S. senators — Democrat Mary L. Landrieu and Republican David Vitter — for attempting to wring $250 billion in aid from the federal government to rehabilitate their state. He got the job done for his state by taking a different and far less expensive approach.

He said the remarkable thing about this election is that the economy and the long war in Iraq should make it a Democratic year, yet McCain is staying competitive with Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton in polling and that support “could spill over” into positive surprises for Republicans in Senate and House races.

Mr. Barbour, averse to conventional political spinning, stopped short of saying Mr. McCain would be sworn in as president come Jan. 20, 2009, but he did say Mr. McCain will get more of the Republican base than was once thought probable.

Besides governor, Mr. Barbour has held many jobs: Republican national committeeman from Mississippi, local television station commentator and lobbyist.

But he said the one he liked the most was as Republican National Committee chairman — “because I didn’t have a legislature to deal with,” he said.

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