Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich are the Republicans getting most of the attention in pre-2012 opinion polls. Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and even Chris Christie get some pub as well.
But a Politico piece today makes the case that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is more influential than them or any other GOP pol right now:
Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.
It’s not just because he controls the RGA kitty but, rather, because he has close relationships with everyone who matters in national GOP politics — operatives like Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and other top Republicans running or raising cash for a network of outside political groups. Together, these groups are essential to Republican hopes of regaining power because Democrats are cleaning their clocks through more traditional fundraising efforts.
The political class, in particular, is consumed with Barbour’s behind-the-scenes endeavors — this week, with the $1 million he got from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Yet the reality is that Barbour has been uniquely adept at leveraging concerns about President Barack Obama into huge contributions from many others. Bob Perry, the Texas businessman who funded the Swift boat attacks in the 2004 campaigns, has given more than twice as much as News Corp.
Barbour’s stature has grown at the expense of cash-strapped, gaffe-prone Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and he has funded his various efforts by tapping into broad dissatisfaction with Steele — at one point, Barbour complained to donors that he needs to raise even more money because Steele is stumbling. This past quarter, Barbour’s RGA actually matched the Republican National Committee in fundraising, something that hasn’t been done in at least five years and probably much longer, according to a POLITICO analysis.
Barbour’s clout is also derived from his serious interest in running for president in 2012, a point he is making clear in private conversations. His logic, one adviser told POLITICO, is simple: When he surveys what most Republicans consider to be a weak field, he sees no reason he couldn’t easily beat them. He’s a better strategist and fundraiser than any other candidate currently considering running — and just as good on television and in debates, his thinking goes.
Personally, I think a white guy with a Southern accent will have a tough time beating Barack Obama in 2012, but maybe I’m being superficial.
The part about the RGA’s fundraising prowess and influence, however, is true enough — particularly with Real Clear Politics’ poll averages showing 13 governorships as solidly, likely or leaning Republican, before you even get to the eight tossups. (Georgia is listed as one of those eight.)
So, what do y’all think? How much influence does, or should, Barbour have among conservatives? Am I wrong about his chances in 2012?