Is Barbour’s Southern Handicap Overstated?

As Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour steps up his efforts to explore a possible presidential run, he faces one question that none of the other prospective candidates will have to address: can a back-slapping, Ole Miss Rebels fan with a molasses-rich drawl connect on a human level with caucus-goers and primary voters whose cultural roots are far from Yazoo City?

Though his Deep South persona and good ol’ boy reputation are often cited as significant drawbacks for Barbour in the first voting states, Republican operatives and officials in Iowa and New Hampshire point to a bevy of historical and anecdotal evidence which suggests that he could do just fine navigating the snowy fields surrounding Sioux City or shaking hands with voters at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Iowa State Senator Bill Dix, who remains one of the more coveted endorsements in the State Capitol among 2012 GOP hopefuls, said that the vast majority of Iowa voters are more concerned about leadership qualities than regional traits.

“It may be a bigger issue with the general population, but as far as caucus-goers are concerned, they connect with people that are personable and bring forward new ideas and approaches that create enthusiasm,” Dix said. “Those who would suggest that Barbour’s being from the Deep South is a handicap, I think, are overstating the case.”