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Barbour eyes gubernatorial campaign

By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
April 28, 2002
As he travels across the state meeting with key Republicans, longtime GOP leader Haley Barbour acts and sounds like a candidate running for governor in next year's statewide elections.
But we likely won't know until after this fall's 3rd District congressional race whether the former chairman of the Republican National Committee will jump into the contest.
Should Republican Chip Pickering lose to Democrat Ronnie Shows in what is likely to be a hotly contested U.S. House race, some political insiders speculate that Pickering could be the GOP's best bet for governor next year.
And that would move Barbour to the sidelines perhaps managing or playing some other important role in a Pickering campaign to regain a governor's office last held by the party when Kirk Fordice had the job.
Either way, Barbour could play a high-profile role in next year's election. And in a visit to Meridian last week, he made it clear he believes Democrat Ronnie Musgrove is vulnerable.
After all, only a handful of votes separated Musgrove from Republican nominee Mike Parker in the 1999 statewide elections throwing the race to the state House, which chose Musgrove.
As Barbour pointed out, the last time a Democrat received a clear majority in a gubernatorial election was in 1987 when Ray Mabus narrowly defeated Tupelo businessman Jack Reed.
Four years later, however, Mabus  riding low from a weak economy and never able to regain critical black support he lost by backing the closure of state charity hospitals  fell to Fordice.
Musgrove, however, is a different case. He's a better campaigner, he can relate more easily one-on-one with the public, he has a friendly personal style  all attributes Mabus sorely lacked.
Musgrove, though, still has enough obstacles to cause some serious problems next year, including a fractious Democratic Party he has never been able to unite.
Besides that, the state economy is in bad shape, the Medicaid program is in shambles, he micro-manages state agencies and he can't get along with other state leaders.
And it's those issues that Barbour talked about last week, both at a Republican reception Monday night at a downtown restaurant and again at a meeting with The Meridian Star the next day.
Barbour believes he could forge a good working relationship with a predominantly Democratic Legislature, one that would avoid the petty bickering that has hampered Musgrove.
On this, Barbour might be a bit too hopeful  especially coming from a man who some believe has spent recent years working in Washington trying to widen the gulf between both parties.
Besides, Mississippi governors never work well with the Legislature. The antagonistic relationship is just part of the job  it's also what happens when a state Legislature wields more power than a governor.
Bill Allain had that problem. Mabus did, too. Even Fordice, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, had a poor working relationship with the Legislature during his two terms from 1992-2000.
Nevertheless, Barbour believes he's found a hook for a campaign and now he's out gauging support. He plans to visit most counties in the state by June.
The only thing he hasn't decided is what he will do next year. And Barbour said that announcement will wait until this fall  after the Pickering-Shows 3rd Congressional District race.

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