Thursday, August 19, 2010

The de facto Chairman of the Republican Party

Interesting story in Politico today, exploring the power wielded by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

This is Politico’s second feature in two months on the man many people in the GOP regard as the de facto Chairman of the party.  The fact that a left-leaning online publication has twice tried sounding the clarion bell on Barbour means that the chattering classes are worried about him. 

They should be worried. They should be absolutely petrified. No one controls more money or has more to spend in the 2010 mid-terms than Hailey Barbour, and no one seems to have the organization or network of power players that he does.

Even if he doesn’t make a run at 2012 (more on that, later), he will have tremendous influence over GOP politics in the next three years.  From the Politico piece:

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.

The 2010 mid-term elections represent a juicy red meat opportunity for Republicans to take back the House of Representatives, and there is even serious talk about getting the 10 seats needed to take the Senate as well.  With Barbour set to play a huge role in financing successful takeover campaigns, there will be a lot of very powerful Republicans who will likely be in his indebtedness. But there will also be a lot of new Republican office-holders in his debt, too.

When Politico ran its first piece on him in late June, the Gulf Coast was mired in the mess created by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The story really didn’t generate much buzz, but I blogged about it on June 28:

Remember also that Barbour was elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee in January 1993.  He is credited by many observers on both sides of the aisle as being one of the chief architects of the 1994 Republican Revolution that swept Democrat majorities from both houses of Congress.  Barbour sensed blood in the water 16 years ago, and is credited with organizing a party-wide feeding frenzy that nationalized Congressional elections for the first time in the post-war era.  In his 2003 campaign for Governor of Mississippi, Barbour beat a conservative blue dog Democrat in a campaign that the Jackson Clarion-Ledger called "relentlessly well organized."  The incumbent, Ronny Musgrove, was pro-life, anti-gay rights and wrote a letter in praise of the Alabama "Ten Commandments Judge," Roy Moore.  Musgrove would have made conservative Republicans in other states blush, but he was beaten by a machine he simply couldn't compete with in, terms of fundraising, organization or message management.

The chattering classes keep tossing about the same old names when it comes to speculation about who might seek the GOP nomination in 2012.  Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Pawlenty, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

None of those people have the clout Barbour does.  As I said back then, if he decides to run,  he’s going to be hard to beat.  He out-raises, out-organizes and out-works his opponents, and if the 2010 mid-terms go his way, he’ll have the entire party apparatus eating out of his hand.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


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