Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour criticized federal spending before a room of Lexington County Republicans Saturday, but also urged activists their fight was with Democrats and not fellow GOP members.
Barbour spoke to the Lexington and Richland County GOP groups as part of a weekend swing to several county conventions in this key early-voting state. Barbour, 63, said he will decide if he will run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination within a month. If he does run, he said, South Carolina is a must-win state if he hopes to win the nomination.
Barbour speaks with a drawl and is a former lobbyist that many argue will have a tough time winning over voters outside the South.
People who approach him, Barbour said, keep saying they are scared about what kind of country is being left to their children and grandchildren. Barbour kept much of his 12-minute speech focused on fiscal issues, criticizing President Barack Obama’s recently announced budget outline for spending a trillion dollars more than it cuts.
“If you ran your business like that,” Barbour quipped, “pretty soon you could write a book about it. You could write a book about it.
“It would start with Chapter 11,” he finished, referring to bankruptcy law.
But in a room full of Tea Party activists seeking more conservative elected officials, Barbour finished his speech by urging the GOP to set aside internal disagreements and remember the “main thing”: winning the presidency.
“We need to not let small disagreements get in the way,” he said.
Many in the crowd, such as West Columbia’s Mary Kerr, said they were still learning about what remains a wide-open field. Kerr said she was looking for somebody “serious about making the tough decision.”
“Somebody has to say no,” Kerr said.
Lexington resident Denise Snelling was excited to get a photo with Barbour. Snelling formerly supported 2008 presidential candidate Romney, but likes Barbour for 2012.
“I just adore him,” Snelling said. “He’s a very likeable guy. I think he’s very trustworthy. And he speaks from his heart and his experience.”
Barbour’s visit is just one sign South Carolina’s first-in-the-South 2012 GOP primary is picking up. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was on the coast Saturday and will join Gov. Nikki Haley at a tax day Tea Party rally in Columbia on Monday.
Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.