One of the more pleasant surprises for me at this year’s CPAC was the opportunity to take a closer look at Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a potential POTUS candidate for 2012. It’s far too easy to fall for conventional media caricatures of American politicians, particularly for a Yankee like myself thinking of a southerner. Barbour, however, doesn’t fit neatly into any preconceived mold.

My first introduction came at a small reception the Governor held for bloggers. He immediately won points with the crowd when he announced that he wasn’t going to make anyone sit through two of his speeches in less than 24 hours and delivered a few remarks about the importance of the advent of social media over the days of three network gatekeepers. He then said that, unlike some other politicians, he would give direct answers to any questions we might have in private, announced that the bar was open and the drinks were on him.

My opinion of the gentleman immediately went up another notch. (For the record, I later asked him what he stocked on the bar at home and he replied, “Makers Mark.” Not my brand, but a fine, high quality choice in case anyone was wondering.)

Barbour comes across in a very warm, cordial fashion while speaking with respectable authority on subjects ranging from energy policy and second amendment rights to debt, taxes and the economy. (We previously posted a video of the Governor discussing oil drilling and energy independence.)

He went on to give a barn-burner of a speech the next day which had the crowd up on their feet multiple times. (Watch the full speech here.) Barbour’s hat may not be officially in the ring yet, but he certainly sounded for all the world like a man with his eyes on the prize and plan to get there.

Of course, Haley faces an uphill climb as do most members of the crowded field jockeying for the inside rail in the 2012 horse race. His name recognition still lags behind some of the celebrity names under discussion, and he faces additional challenges which most of the other candidates don’t. One of the more vacuous ones, but worth keeping an eye on, is the meme that a “good old boy” with a southern accent won’t play well in the North or on the coasts.

It’s not that regional differences don’t exist among the electorate. I’ve already had conversations with some of my Northeastern RINO brethren who, upon hearing Barbour’s name, immediately invoke references to “Boss Hogg” and neo-confederate issues. But, as Guy Benson wrote last week at Town Hall, those types of attacks probably won’t hold much water for anyone seriously considering the issues.

Further, the Mississippi governor may also carry a few positive factors into the race which some of his competitors lack. With all of the focus on pressing fiscal concerns, some social conservatives are already expressing reservations as to whether or not they’re going to be left on the sidelines again like in the 2010 races. Barbour already sat down for an interview with Life News to make it clear that he was a champion for their cause and would not leave those concerns on the sidelines.

It’s too early to say exactly how well Haley Barbour will fare in the media wars as he works to establish his brand on a national level. Perception plays a huge role in success at the polls and he’s got some work to do in that area. But by the end of the weekend, I found myself agreeing with one woman I spoke with during the Governor’s Friday night reception. She said, “if every voter in America could spend five minutes in a small room talking to this guy, he’d probably carry 45 states.”

Time will tell.

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