Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have scored the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush this week, and enjoyed some positive encouragement from a tea party favorite, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, but GOP stalwart Haley Barbour is not yet toeing the line.
Barbour said in an interview with Al Hunt airing on Bloomberg TV Friday night that he is unimpressed with Romney’s inability to lock up the nomination. “[Romney] wins and then turns around and loses the next week, whether it’s South Carolina -- and probably Santorum is going to win Louisiana tomorrow," Barbour said. "But what we know about all that is that Mitt hasn’t been able to get the party coalesced behind him.”
A major Republican fundraiser and a former Mississippi governor, Barbour called Romney “moderately conservative,” and said he is not the ideal choice for many conservative Republicans. But he added that conservatives will be with him in the fall, and that Romney’s moderation on issues will help him against President Obama.
“I think he needs to stay right where he is. I think where he is -- he’s moderately conservative. I think that’s very in tune with the American people,” Barbour said. “But this election should be a referendum on Obama, on Obama’s policies and the results of those policies, whether it’s all the spending, whether it’s ‘Obamacare,’ whether it’s this terrible energy policy.”
Barbour has said that he voted for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the Mississippi primary on March 13. Romney came in third in that contest, behind Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Barbour said that Romney's Mormon religion could have been a factor in his defeat.
“The fact that Santorum and Gingrich, but Santorum particularly, is very religious and he spoke on election night in Mississippi about his faith, and he campaigned on that -- [in] my state, that probably makes more difference than it does in Maryland,” he said.
However, Barbour predicted Romney’s religion would not be much of a factor in the fall campaign. “There are 25,000 Southern Baptist preachers that'll vote for a Mormon before they vote for Obama,” he told Hunt.
Barbour is a key player in American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the influential Republican super PAC and affiliated nonprofit group, which are raising millions of dollars for the election. The two groups were founded by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
His comments run counter to Romney’s efforts to portray himself as a conservative in the primaries. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is also battling criticism from his rivals that he is an “Etch A Sketch” conservative who will reset his image in the fall.