Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich are the Republicans getting most of the attention in pre-2012 opinion polls. Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and even Chris Christie get some pub as well.
But a Politico piece today makes the case that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is more influential than them or any other GOP pol right now:
Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.
It’s not just because he controls the RGA kitty but, rather, because he has close relationships with everyone who matters in national GOP politics — operatives like Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and other top Republicans running or raising cash for a network of outside political groups. Together, these groups are essential to Republican hopes of regaining power because Democrats are cleaning their clocks through more traditional fundraising efforts.
The political class, in particular, is consumed with Barbour’s behind-the-scenes endeavors — this week, with the $1 million he got from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Yet the reality is that Barbour has been uniquely adept at leveraging concerns about President Barack Obama into huge contributions from many others. Bob Perry, the Texas businessman who funded the Swift boat attacks in the 2004 campaigns, has given more than twice as much as News Corp.