In NH, Barbour keeps focus despite Sanford affair

Published 12:58 am Friday, June 26, 2009

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s sudden ascension from incoming to outright chairman of the Republican Governors Association because of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s marital scandal lent a bit more credibility to claims that his trip to New Hampshire had more to do with gubernatorial than presidential politics.

Barbour took over as chairman Wednesday following Sanford’s admission to having an affair and his decision to step down as the association’s leader. Barbour declined to comment on Sanford’s revelation but said it wouldn’t distract the Washington, D.C.-based governors association from its work.

“I’ve been around politics for 40 years, and I’ve always made it a policy that I don’t talk about people’s personal problems. I don’t think it’s polite. I don’t think it’s appropriate, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from it,” Barbour told reporters Wednesday evening. “But I will tell you that the Republican Governors Association is very focused, and we’re going to keep going in the direction we’re going.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That means focusing on competitive gubernatorial races this year in New Jersey and Virginia and dozens of races in 2010, including in New Hampshire and Iowa, where Barbour was headed Thursday.

Though Barbour, who was in town for a GOP fundraiser, has emerged as a leader of his party’s rebuilding efforts, he dismissed speculation that his travels to the two early voting states indicated interest in running for president in 2012. He said New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman and former Gov. John H. Sununu invited him to Wednesday’s fundraiser because he specifically wanted someone who wasn’t running.

“I said, ‘Well, John, I’m the answer to your prayers,”’ Barbour said.

Sununu concurred, saying it’s too early to think about 2012.

“He’s a dear friend, and we’re trying to hold a small little gathering for about 100 people, and he was very happy and willing to do it,” Sununu said in a telephone interview earlier. “It was just a friend-to-friend kind of thing.”

New Hampshire political consultant Mike Dennehy said he wouldn’t be surprised if Barbour ends up running.

“Because, quite honestly, while there are a number of talented Republicans and Republican governors in particular out there, none are as seasoned as Haley Barbour and none have as much proven success as Haley Barbour,” said Dennehy, who was national political director for Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign.