Barbour, a GOP insider often mentioned as a candidate to challenge President Obama in 2012, didn't rule out the possibility, but said he hasn’t seriously contemplated a presidential run.
“I'm not giving serious thought to running for president until after the November election,” Barbour said at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are among the high-profile Republicans expected to run for president in 2012. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) are also frequently mentioned as possible 2012 contenders.
Barbour insisted again on Wednesday that his focus is on the upcoming midterms elections, in which his party is poised for a takeover of Congress.
Barbour has maintained that is the case, but at the last National Governors Association meeting in Washington in February, he famously remarked that if he starts slimming down, it could mean he plans to run for president. “If you see me losing 40 pounds, that means I’m either running or have cancer,” he cracked.
If he decides to run, Barbour has a national donor network he could call on to raise money. He’s helped bring in more than $28 million for the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which he heads, and made visits to early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to help local Republicans raise cash.
Strategist Ed Rollins praised him recently as one of the party leaders who have held the GOP together at a time when the Republican National Committee (RNC) is in disarray under Chairman Michael Steele.
"In 11 weeks from now, what [Steele] says or does in the next 11 weeks is not going to matter. What's going to matter is Ed Gillespie, Haley Barbour, others who've picked up the mantle and are raising the resources that we need," Rollins said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in August, in reference to the fundraising efforts launched in the wake of reports of mismanagement at the RNC.
Casino magnate Steve Wynn, a major Republican donor, has also been encouraging Barbour to run, according to reports. The two men became close while Wynn put together riverboat gaming operations on the Mississippi River.
As popular as he is behind the scenes, Barbour isn’t polling as the favorite for his party’s 2012 nomination – he took only 3 percent in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey gauging potential presidential candidates.
Barbour is aware he might have a limited national appeal. The two-term governor described himself as a “fat redneck” with an “accent” in a recent interview with CNN. Before getting elected governor, he spent years as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, which could be another liability.
"I don't shy away from my career," Barbour said Wednesday. "I'm a lawyer, a lobbyist and a politician — that's the trifecta."
Barbour previously defended his resume in a recent interview with the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank.
"I was a lobbyist, and a pretty damned good one," Barbour said. "And I will tell you this — the next president of the United States on Jan. 21, 2013 — is going to start lobbying."