Haley Barbour is the one thread of continuity between the Republicans’ restoration of 1994 and their comeback hopes in 2010. Then he was chairman of the Republican National Committee; today he is in his second term as governor of Mississippi and is chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
In 1993-94, he was a shrewd but mostly behind-the-scenes player to Gingrich’s out-front leadership role in the midterm elections that drove Democrats from power. Today, he is front and center as a spokesman, strategist, fundraiser and counselor, looked to by congressional leaders and other governors for leadership in challenging the Democrats. They do not underestimate him as a formidable adversary.
The other older pro is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He is the northern wing of the axis of experience the Republicans have within the gubernatorial ranks. Like Barbour, he is a former White House political director. Like Barbour, he is well-grounded in policy, having served as budget director in President George W. Bush’s White House.
Daniels has been a highly successful governor who has kept focused on his state’s economic problems. He is a plain-spoken conservative who has been outspoken about his party’s problems. Republicans, he argues, must earn back the public’s trust, and in Indiana he has provided a model for his party of how to go about doing that.
If Barbour and Daniels form the ranks of old pros, there are young pros rising within the ranks. The youngest is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been on a fast track all his adult life. He had a terrible introduction to the nation this year when he was picked to give the GOP response to Obama’s first speech as president to a joint session of Congress.