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Haley Barbour Decides Against White House Run, Doubts 'Fire In Belly'

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour walks through the Iowa Statehouse before speaking to the Iowa Federation of Republican Woman March 15, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour walks through the Iowa Statehouse before speaking to the Iowa Federation of Republican Woman March 15, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has decided against running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Barbour, long a member of the national GOP Party establishment as a one-time chair of the Republican National Committee chair, said he couldn't guarantee his supporters that he had the all-consuming "fire in the belly" it takes to wage the kind of campaign it takes to get the nomination, let alone to try and beat an incumbent president.

And whatever fire he did have might have been dampened by polls that gave him very little encouragement.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll that listed potential Republican candidates indicated he polled at less than one percent. That was actually less than "none" of the above received at three percent.

Barbour didn't mention polling numbers in a statement he released Monday afternoon. It said:

"I will not be a candidate for president next year. This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided.

"Hundreds of people have encouraged me to run and offered both to give and raise money for a presidential campaign. Many volunteers have organized events in support of my pursuing the race. Some have dedicated virtually full time to setting up preliminary organizations in critical, early states and to helping plan what has been several months of intensive activity.

"I greatly appreciate each and every one of them and all their outstanding efforts. If I have disappointed any of them in this decision, I sincerely regret it.

"A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.

"This decision means I will continue my job as Governor Mississippi, my role in the Republican Governors Association and my efforts to elect a new Republican president in 2012, as the stakes for the nation require that effort to be successful."

While Barbour was well known in political circles, he was far from a household name, generally speaking.

Also, he had made some early missteps, the kinds of things that are toxic for a candidate who's not so well known since they come to define him.

For instance, last year Barbour had to do a lot of explaining after an interview in which he made it sound like the Citizens' Council in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss. was a benign group that kept the Ku Klux Klan in check instead of a racist group in its own right.

And this was years after the well-known (in political circles) watermelon incident. As a younger politician Barbour told a campaign aide who made a racist remark in the presence of a reporter that if he didn't behave the aide would be "reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks" according to 1982 New York Times article Ben Smith excerpted in his Politico blog.

Being a conservative Republican from the Deep South, these were aspects of Barbour's story that just reinforced many suspicions that, at the very least, he might be racially insensitive to a degree that's just not politically acceptable in 2011.

And that's not even mentioning the other part of Barbour's personal story that was likely not helpful in today's environment: his history as a lobbyist.

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