Barbour was already a respected Republican leader when as governor he faced the worst natural disaster in American history — Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. He took the lead early on helping Mississippians rebuild and recover.
Barbour touched on the experience briefly in his speech Friday night, but quickly turned to politics.
He took the audience through major Republican Party wins and losses over past decades, noting that Republicans lost races in 2006 not because Republicans voted Democratic. “We lost among independents,” he said, adding that the party has much to learn from that.
“This year, there will not be independents in play,” he warned. “There will be a lot of Republicans who are not sure. There will be a lot of Democrats who are not sure.
“It’s a different kind of electorate,” he added. “Millions and millions of voters are going to be in play who never gave a second thought in 2004 about voting for the other side.
“What’s that mean for us? It means this is going to be a campaign of persuasion,” he said.
“The first thing to do in Missouri is rebuild our state party from the grassroots level. … Grassroots is going to take an incredible amount of work. …. We have to sell them on a candidate.”
“The cold fact is that John McCain is going to be our candidate for president,” he said. He’s not as conservative as Mitt Romney or (Mike) Huckabee or others who have since left the race, but he is compared to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.”
Second, he said, Republicans must rebuild their small-donor base. Finally, he said, they’ll have to use technology and Internet blogs and portals to educate their workers and the voters they talk to.
“You can’t persuade anybody you’re right on the issues if they don’t hear you,” he said.