In a Twist, Members Now Aiding Barbour

Posted April 2, 2003 at 6:24pm

In a dramatic reversal of roles, Haley Barbour, the high-powered GOP lobbyist seeking to become governor of Mississippi, has turned to top Republicans on Capitol Hill to help fund his campaign.

Barbour was busy working the Senate GOP leadership last week, meeting privately with several lawmakers, some of whom have been appointed to the advisory committee for a scheduled May 7 fundraiser for Barbour in Washington, D.C. Members on the advisory committee include Mississippi’s two Republican Senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, who have each made $10,000 donations to his campaign, as well as Sens. Larry Craig (Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

The May 7 event carries a $1,000-per-person price tag, and top supporters are being asked to raise $5,000 each for the event. Barbour’s campaign declined to say how much they hope to raise at the gathering, although he has privately told friends he will need $8 million or more if he wants to oust incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove this fall.

Barbour is also getting financial support from the Republican Governors Association, which is hosting its own $1,000-a-head event May 7 at the Washington Court Hotel to benefit the former Republican National Committee chairman. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) is expected to serve on the advisory committee for Barbour’s fundraiser as well. Pickering has also donated $10,000 to Barbour’s campaign.

Barbour began personally preparing for his big fundraiser last Tuesday during what was dubbed the Senate’s “vote-a-rama” on the budget resolution, and his close ties to GOP leaders were on full display at that time.

Using Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office just off the chamber floor as a base of operations, Barbour chatted up Senators and sought their help in the governor’s race, one of just three such contests that will be waged this fall.

Because of the almost nonstop votes, Barbour wasn’t able to formally address the GOP Conference at its weekly luncheon, but there was an informal lunch during which Barbour addressed several Senate Republicans. He also worked the hallways afterward, rounding up support. “Haley Barbour has a ton of friends in this town, and people would do anything for him,” a top Senate Republican staffer said.

In a brief interview, Barbour said it was the first real foray he had made into fundraising among Members of Congress and the K Street community. A longtime force inside the Beltway, and still a registered lobbyist for companies like Lockheed Martin Corp., Microsoft and the Southern Co., Barbour has concentrated so far on raising money in Mississippi. Barbour has, by his own estimate, generated better than 90 percent of the more than $413,000 he has raised so far from the Magnolia State.

Barbour said his Mississippi-based fundraising wasn’t intended to deflect potential criticism that he was beholden to out-of-state interests, and boasted that, until last week, he had spent all but four days of this year in Mississippi, making it difficult to do fundraising anywhere else.

“You raise money wherever you are,” Barbour said.

Lott, a longtime political ally, said he would be one of the May 7 fundraiser’s co-hosts, although it was still unclear at press time how many other GOP lawmakers would take part.

“[Barbour] is doing a good job,” said Lott. “Obviously, this is early in the campaign. He has got two or three things he has got to put in place before he gets to the general, but I think he is looking strong.”

While few Republicans have made financial contributions to his bid at this point, many plan to if asked.

The view of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) is typical, and his response demonstrates the enormous number of political chits Barbour carries into his second campaign for public office. Barbour unsuccessfully challenged Sen. John Stennis (D) in 1982.

“Haley Barbour believed in me when I was 31 percent behind running for governor in 1993,” said Allen, referring to the period Barbour served as RNC chairman in the mid-1990s. “I think the world of Haley Barbour, and I would certainly do all I can to help him.”

Barbour spent part of the past cycle as the national finance chairman for the NRSC.

Chambliss, who unseated Democratic Sen. Max Cleland (Ga.) last November after four terms in the House, also voiced strong support for his fellow Southerner.

“Haley Barbour helped me get elected to Congress. Haley Barbour helped me get elected to the U.S. Senate. I will do everything I can to help him,” said Chambliss.

The lack of other top-tier races nationally will also help to ensure that Barbour gets plenty of attention from party leaders. Kentucky and Louisiana also have gubernatorial races, and with the current war in Iraq and ongoing economic problems, both Democrats and Republicans are monitoring the campaigns closely as a way to judge the strength of President Bush and the GOP heading into 2004.

Paul Kane and Mark Preston contributed to this report.