TAMPA, Fla. - Former Republican National Committee 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 than 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, "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, "[Obama] got into the top 1 percent of income-earners by writing two books about himself," Barbour said. "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."
Should Romney get elected, his ability to pass legislation will depend in large part on whether Republicans can get control of the Senate. Barbour conceded 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.
"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 ... not doing the right thing for the country?"
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 chairman 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, postelection surveys found voters were evenly divided on the issue.
"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.