The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, says the number of Republican governors will grow from 24 today to "at least 30" after the 2010 election, a group that may include two Hispanics and two Indian-Americans.
Mr. Barbour was coy about his 2012 presidential ambitions — "we have governor's races in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina," he said, referring to states with early presidential caucuses or primaries. He said that the trend overall is strong for his party, but cautioned that things can change between now and Election Day.
"How good is the environment? It's better than '94. But remember, six weeks is an eternity," he said.
He said Republicans are "likely to win a majority in the House," and he predicted they would gain seats in the Senate without achieving a majority.
Mr. Barbour named Charles Baker in Massachusetts, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bill Brady in Illinois and Terry Branstad in Iowa as candidates likely to emerge as winners. He said Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada could become two Hispanic Republican governors, while Nikki Haley in South Carolina will join Bobby Jindal of Louisiana as an Indian-American Republican governor.
Mr. Barbour made his remarks at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City, where he was introduced by the Manhattan Institute's chairman, Paul Singer, as "the most powerful Republican in American politics."
The governor began with a joke about whether his Southern accent required "an interpreter" for his New York audience.
He said the electorate is responding to what he called a "lurch to the left" by the government that "is literally unprecedented," including "a spending spree that would give drunken sailors a bad name."
"Spending is a big part of what the American people are upset about," he said, calling spending a bigger issue for the public than the deficit. "People understand that we can't spend ourselves rich," he said.
He also criticized the President Obama and the Pelosi-Reid Congress for what he called an "anti-job creation" health care bill and a proposal for "big tax increases on the people who are most likely to create jobs."
He said the Tea Party's ideas are "the same stuff that's basic Republican philosophy."
He contrasted the governors with Washington-based politicians. "The difference between senators and governors is that senators talk about things, and governors do things," he said. He said that his state budget is 13.3% less than it was three years ago, while in Washington, a "cut" is a reduction to 5% annual growth from a budgeted 8%.
"Governors understand what cuts really mean," he said, adding that his state, with a $5 billion general fund, will soon lose $600 million in federal money. "We're going to be back cutting our state budget again a pretty significant amount," he said. Actually, he said, "We're gonna be back cuttin' our state budget again a pretty significant amount," but he's from Mississippi and had no translator present so I am taking some liberties.
He said the number of state employees in Mississippi today is the same as it was in 1990.
He said he hoped to achieve some savings through restructuring spending in areas such as education, which is 63% of his state budget. He has already reduced the state's Medicaid rolls to 580,000 (up 40,000 because of the recession) from 720,000 by requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to appear annual in person to reestablish their eligibility. The state has also turned building and managing prisons over to private sector companies who do the job cheaper than government on a per-prisoner, per-day basis, and it is exploring additional savings with parole or early release programs, the governor said.
Mr. Barbour predicted that President Obama would offer a "grand compromise" on the deficit, offering Democratic support for spending cuts in return for Republican support for tax increases. "If Republicans take it, they need their heads examined," Mr. Barbour said. "The problem is not that you're taxed too little, the problem is they spend too much."
"Raising taxes is the enemy of controlling spending," he said.
In response to a question about the state's response to Katrina, Mr. Barbour recalled a flight over the Gulf Coast the day after the storm hit. "It looked like the hand of God just wiped away the coast," he said. He credited the state's relatively rapid recovery to the actions of its residents. "Our people are not into victimhood. They didn't whine or mope. They just hitched up their britches," he said.
It didn't attract much press coverage, he said, because, "the news media doesn't like to cover airplanes that land safely."
I've had an eye on Governor Barbour ever since I commissioned, back in 2005, this article at the New York Sun by Josh Gerstein on Mr. Barbour as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2008. For 2012, I've been skeptical of the idea of running a 65-year-old former lobbyist whose firm's client list has included banks, drug companies, and Arab kingdoms. And I am still skeptical, though less so, after seeing this talk. It does seem as though Mr. Barbour is a good fit as governor and as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, though, and, for the presidency, what it may come down to for the Republicans in 2012 is a search not for a perfect candidate but for the best candidate. Anyway, definitely a person worth keeping an eye on.