Is Haley Barbour Too Conservative for John McCain?

Haley Barbour has the distinction of being the second most prominent Republican governor in the country -- and the most prominent one who never starred ...
by | April 30, 2008

Barbour Haley Barbour has the distinction of being the second most prominent Republican governor in the country -- and the most prominent one who never starred in a major motion picture.

Barbour, Mississippi's governor, won positive reviews for his stewardship of his state after Hurricane Katrina. He was reelected last year with 58% of the vote. He's also a national figure from his time as chairman of the RNC.

All of that has made Barbour the subject of more vice-presidential speculation than your average governor. However, one Republican heavyweight and savvy political observer doesn't think Barbour is a candidate for the job.

Haley Barbour.

From the Washington Times :

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.

...

"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."

Note that this was not a standard denial. Barbour didn't say, "I'm not interested" or "I'm focused on my work in Mississippi." He gave a concrete reason why he wouldn't be on the ticket.

Barbour is right that he's more conservative than McCain. For example, McCain is a lead sponsor of legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions as a way to fight global warming. Barbour, according to Bob Novak, led a group of governors who prevented the National Governors Association from supporting reduced CO2 emissions.

Still, it's almost inevitable that a presidential candidate and his running mate will disagree on some issues. Usually, the answer is to blur the differences and/or to defer to the person at the top of the ticket.

Barbour might say, "I took that position in my capacity as the governor of an energy-producing state." McCain might say, "It's important to fight global warming in a way that doesn't hurt private industry." You get the idea.

Remember, just a couple of months ago it was almost a given that McCain would pick a running mate with strong conservative credentials to shore up his right flank. Novak's point in that column wasn't to rule out Barbour as a vice-presidential candidate -- it was to suggest that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was unacceptable because he favored the caps on CO2 emissions.

That was a couple of months ago. There are a few questions about Barbour as a running mate (Would his lobbyist background be a problem? Is he too Southern?), but the fundamental one is whether McCain has any reason to pick someone who is more conservative than him.

McCain's support among Republicans now looks solid. To the extent he has problems within his own party, it's among Republicans who are disaffected based on the Iraq War or the economy -- not ones who view him as insufficiently conservative.

McCain's biggest problem is no longer with Republicans, but with the absence of them. The Arizona senator will be courting an electorate with fewer G.O.P. supporters than in past election cycles.

Unless that dynamic changes -- unless McCain runs into trouble to his right again -- Barbour is probably right that he is an unlikely choice.

Previously in my vice-presidential series:

-Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin

-Bill Richardson

-Tim Kaine and Ted Strickland

-Tim Pawlenty

-28 governors who won't be running mates

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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