Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was Republican National Committee chairman the last time his party was at such a low, after the election of 1992. Two years later, Republicans captured control of Congress, and although Newt Gingrich, who became the new House speaker, got much of the credit, party insiders say Barbour played a major role.
Sixteen years later, Republicans are looking to Barbour to help lead them back once more. It is perhaps ironic that, at a time of generational change in politics, an elder statesman such as Barbour, 61, is once again poised to play a pivotal role for his party, this time in the elections of 2009 and 2010. And although he says a presidential candidacy in 2012 is not likely, Barbour has refused to shut the door on speculation that he is interested.
This weekend, he is playing host to a meeting of the National Governors Association, a gathering of bipartisanship and bonhomie that is allowing him to show off how the Mississippi Gulf Coast has recovered under his leadership since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. Once the meeting ends, he will turn back to partisan politics in his new assignment as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.