Alternate headline: “Haley Barbour figures out way to alienate entire conservative blogosphere.”
In the unlikely event that you need it explained to you why this is such a good idea, here you go.
Representatives of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have been trying to set up a time with Huckabee aides for the two Southern governors and longtime friends to meet, POLITICO has learned…
The Arkansan still has a strong following in first-in-the-nation Iowa, where he won by nine points in 2008, and his laying of hands could offer Barbour an important validation in the Hawkeye State.
More broadly, Huckabee would offer his fellow governor an important credential among Christian conservatives. Barbour is a down-the-line social conservative on the issues – he often mentions that under his governorship Mississippi was deemed the safest place for an unborn child – but he doesn’t have the personal connection with the Christian Right that Huckabee enjoys. The former Baptist preacher’s endorsement would make it easier for Barbour to deflect questions about just how ardent a cultural conservative he is.
Perhaps more important, the absence of Huckabee from the race and his support for Barbour would mean that there would likely be just one high-profile candidate who is distinctly Southern. This would be a boon for Barbour not only in South Carolina – where Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson combined to get 46 percent of the vote in 2008 – but throughout a region where place still matters.
Barbour might win South Carolina under any circumstances, Huckabee endorsement or no, but if he heads in there without a caucus or primary win already under his belt, he may be seen as unviable. The real value to him in Huck’s backing would come in Iowa, especially with locals like Bachmann and Pawlenty desperately eager to do well there. If Barbour wins Iowa with Huckabee’s help, it’ll instantly make him a serious candidate for the nomination and will build up a huge amount of momentum for him with South Carolina ahead. If he wins there too then, frankly, he probably won’t need Huckabee’s help anywhere else. He’ll have already received the evangelical candidate’s seal of approval and he’ll clean up in the south. And then, for primaries outside the south, he’ll have the endorsement of Mitch “Truce on Social Issues” Daniels to reassure centrist voters that Barbour won’t be captured by the social conservative base. Neat trick.
For what it’s worth, Huckabee’s team denies that there’s any overt outreach from Barbour’s camp but allows that there are “quite a few people” close to each man who talk “often.” Read the Politico piece linked up top and you’ll see that the two obviously hold each other in high regard. Which prompts the question: If he doesn’t run, who else might Huck endorse if not Barbour? Romney’s a nonstarter; he’s always seemed to resent Palin’s greater popularity given their common Christian, blue-collar, gubernatorial credentials; and Gingrich seems an unlikely enough nominee that strategically it may not be worth backing him. Pawlenty is a possibility and would doubtless draw Huck’s endorsement if it came down to him and Mitt in a two-man race, but why would Huckabee prefer T-Paw to his old pal Haley early on? Barbour seems like an obvious pick.