Barbour: GOP chances better than in '94, but don't get complacent

Republicans shouldn’t take their upset victory in Massachusetts for granted, a senior party strategist told the Senate GOP conference Wednesday.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the national party, warned the group it can’t afford complacency or overconfidence, even with the wind seemingly at its back.

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“Nothing is automatic in politics. Things change. Everybody needs to just run hard, hard, and take nothing for granted,” Barbour told The Hill shortly after he spoke to the conference during its half-day-long meeting at the Library of Congress.

“But the environment today is better for Republicans in January of 2010 than it was in January of 1994,” he added. “The important thing I told them was that while today the environment is better than it was in ’94, the elections aren’t for 10 months. Lots can change, and they need to be thinking that nothing is carved in stone.”

Barbour avoided any predictions about whether the GOP could recapture either chamber of Congress, but said recapturing the Senate would be harder than winning back the House “because the numbers are a little worse — but a month is a light-year in politics.”

Republicans opened the two-year political cycle with seemingly little chance to win back either chamber, but particularly the Senate, where the GOP is defending six open seats.

However, Democrats have seen their fortunes fall, with members in the House and Senate, including Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), announcing retirements that give the GOP pickup opportunities. Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, this week decided against a run for his father’s seat, handing Republicans an opportunity to win another seat in a state carried by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump's tariffs are a case of crony capitalism Obama to visit Kenya, South Africa for Obama Foundation in July Overnight Energy: EPA declines to write new rule for toxic spills | Senate blocks move to stop Obama water rule | EPA bought 'tactical' pants and polos MORE in 2008.

Wednesday’s meeting, closed to the public and press, also featured a short address by House Republican Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center MORE (Ohio).

After the meeting, GOP leaders challenged Democrats to increase cooperation with the minority.

The GOP controls 41 seats with Republican Scott Brown’s victory last week in Massachusetts, which means Democrats will have to win Republican votes to overcome procedural hurdles. GOP leaders at a press conference said they would meet Democrats halfway if the majority party abandons its big-ticket priorities.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Senate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays Political figures pay tribute to Charles Krauthammer MORE (R-Ky.) pledged Wednesday he would deliver his senators if Democratic leaders pursue a more bipartisan path and give leeway to GOP ideas such as tax cuts. Specifically, McConnell urged Democrats not to let the tax cuts that were passed under President George W. Bush expire next year.

“The quickest way to get bipartisanship is for our friends in the majority to take the message from Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which is to move to the political middle, where many of us have been prepared to meet them for a year now,” he said. “They need to come off of this far-left agenda, which has been rejected by the American people, and meet us in the middle.”

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The two parties have traded accusations this year over who is to blame for a lack of cooperation in the Senate. Democrats say Republicans set upon a strategy of hurting President Barack Obama by voting en masse against his agenda, while the GOP repeatedly has said Democrats have failed to reach out to Republicans.

Barbour is also head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), a post he took from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) after Sanford admitted to an extramarital affair last year. Barbour said the job will require him to focus on 37 gubernatorial races this fall.

A profile in a recent edition of Newsweek raised the specter of a Barbour presidential campaign, but he told The Hill he is preoccupied with his RGA duties.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that you never rule things like that out, and I’m certainly not going to give it any thought until the end of this year,” he said. “To the degree that I have some political capital and time, I’m going to focus it on governors’ races this year. And then we’ll see if that’s even worth thinking about.”

This story was updated at 7:23 p.m.