It’s either Haley’s comet to 2012 or GOP kingmaker

BOSTON — Hurricane Katrina curtailed Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s presidential aspirations last time around. His response to the devastation from the Gulf oil spill and his work to elect Republican governors this year are stirring talk of a White House bid in 2012.

Barbour’s standing within the Republican Party is so high these days that he’s certain to be a force in the presidential race even if he decides not to challenge President Barack Obama. The governor insists his top priority is helping his state, devastated by the oil spill, and lifting the GOP in the November elections.

Beyond that, Republicans uniformly suggest that one of two things will happen: Either Barbour becomes a serious contender for president, siphoning staff and donors from likely opponents, or he takes on the role of kingmaker, giving his blessing and delivering his contacts as a former national party chairman to his anointed candidate.

Barbour can easily stoke both possibilities through his current role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a position that allows him to travel the country, raise money and audition staff all under the auspices of getting his colleagues elected in four months.

“We’ve got to keep our focus on this fall,” he said Friday during a quick visit to Massachusetts for a meeting of the National Governors Association. “We can’t wait until 2012 to take our country back.”

He tells his potential White House rivals the same thing.

And he says the oil spill hasn’t changed his political calculus on a future presidential run.

“I’ve always said I’m going to wait until after the 2010 elections, and then we’ll see if there’s anything to consider,” Barbour said in a brief interview with The Associated Press.