A Wonk in Sheep’s Clothing

In news accounts assessing the likely 2012 Republican presidential field, there are a number of descriptions typically associated with Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. White Southerner. Thick accent. Gifted fundraiser. Connected. Former lobbyist. But when you ask those who know him, another characterization comes to mind.

“He’s a policy wonk, which a lot of people don’t realize,” said Ed Gillespie, a political strategist and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who has known Barbour since 1993 and considers him a mentor. “[People] tend to think of Haley Barbour as very politically savvy and good on television and smooth, but he really is a policy wonk at heart.”

Mississippi native Ricky Mathews was publisher of the Sun Herald in 2005 when Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, and he got to know Barbour by serving on a commission the governor put together to help manage the response and recovery.

“He has a mind like a steel trap,” Mathews recalled. “He remembers facts and numbers like no one I’ve ever come in contact with.”

American Spectator
3/25/11