TAMPA – Former RNC chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour likes to point out that since 1896, only one incumbent president has ever been defeated when the opposing party had held the office four years earlier, and that was Jimmy Carter. He does this to emphasize how difficult it is to defeat a sitting president. But in an interview with the Washington Examiner on Tuesday, Barbour expressed optimism about where Mitt Romney stands as he prepares to formally accept the Republican nomination here this week.
“I am very encouraged that after Democrats spent a huge amount of money to try to disqualify Romney during the summer to make him unacceptable that here we are about to go to the conventions in a dead heat,” Barbour said.
To overtake President Obama and win the election, Barbour argued that Romney needed to successfully accomplish two things – tell Romney’s personal story and explain why he’d get better results then Obama has.
“Many, many Americans don’t feel like they know Mitt Romney and they’ve been introduced to a lot of negative stuff about him,” he said. “But this week there will be a launch pad for people getting to know him better, to learn his life story, to learn about his family. He is a model family man, he’s got a family life that we all hope our children have, he’s a very successful business man and made it on his own.”
The Obama campaign has sought to portray Romney as wealthy and out of touch, but Barbour said that, “We have two very wealthy men running for president.”
While Romney built a business that provided huge returns for investors, turned around struggling companies and created jobs, Barbour said that “(Obama) got into the top 1 percent of income earners by writing two books about himself. Now, the American people will be thinking about which one of those guys is more likely to be able to turn around the American economy.”
Barbour said that beyond introducing himself, Romney would also have to outline a strategy to make things better. “When people look at Obama’s failed policies and the terrible results, Romney will have to show them, ‘Here’s what I’d do differently; here’s why I’d do I’d do it differently; and here’s how it would be successful in getting economic growth and our economy going back in the right direction.”
Should Romney get elected, his ability to pass legislation will depend in large part on whether Republicans can get control of the Senate. Barbour argued that Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments on rape and pregnancy made that more of a challenge.
“It took a seat that Republicans were well ahead in and had an excellent chance of winning and reversed that to where if Todd Akin is our nominee, we have virtually no chance of winning,” he said.
He noted that Democrats invested over a million dollars on efforts to make sure that Akin won the Republican primary.
“Todd Akin ought to put the country first,” Barbour said. “This seat could determine whether there’s a Republican majority in the Senate or not and I think that what pro-life conservatives like me are concerned about is why is this guy, now that it’s become public that he is who the Democrats were secretly helping, why is he not doing the right thing for the country?”
Ever since Romney chose House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his vice presidential nominee, there’s been an increasing focus on Medicare. Barbour, who served as RNC chair when Medicare was a major issue during the heated budget fights of the 1990s, said he thought this was a positive development. He noted that despite the vast amount of money Democrats spent on “Mediscare” attacks during the 1996 election, post-election surveys found that those voters who considered Medicare their most important issue split their support evenly between the two parties.
“What we’ve learned in 1996 and since then is that the more information voters have about Medicare, the more facts that they have, frankly the more that the issue is discussed, the better Republicans do,” he said.