Haley Barbour: Race wouldn't be a problem in presidential campaign

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has signaled that he does not believe past flaps over race would cause him many problems should he decide to seek the Republican nomination for president.

Speaking to The Associated Press in Iowa, site of the first presidential nominating contest next year, Barbour asserted that Mississippi has advanced quite a bit over the last half-century or so. 

"I think there's less regionalism in America than there's been in my lifetime," said Barbour. "I think it's obvious to everyone that the different parts of America are becoming more alike and this has been an evolutionary thing since the end of World War II at least."

Barbour was in Iowa to meet with top Republican activists in the Hawkeye State, and has said he won’t make a decision on whether to seek the White House until April.

The latest incident involving Barbour and race occurred earlier this month, when the governor was criticized for not condemning a push to memorialize Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, with a license plate. 

Barbour said he decided against denouncing individuals, but told the AP that “I said accurately this is not going to happen." 

"The bureaucracy denied it, the legislature won't pass it and if the legislature passes it, it won't become law because I won't sign it,” the governor added. 

Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, also came under some fire after saying in a Weekly Standard profile late last year that he did not remember the civil-rights era “being that bad” in his hometown. 

The governor also told the AP that Mississippi would host a reunion of the Freedom Riders, who worked to integrate commercial bus travel in the early 1960s, at the governor’s mansion. 

“We have made a tremendous amount of progress in my lifetime,” Barbour said.