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Barbour: GOP candidates 'still have a long way to go'

While some in the GOP are concerned a drawn-out primary fight will weaken the party’s eventual presidential nominee, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) thinks the extended contest will be good for the field.

Barbour said Wednesday that none of the four remaining GOP candidates have proven to voters that they are ready to be the party’s standard-bearer in November.

"I don't think that any of them has successfully made the case that 'I am the guy who's got the best chance to beat Obama,'" said Barbour in an interview with ABC News online.

"We still have a long way to go with three candidates who are to the right of Romney, and in our party it's an advantage to be more conservative, but I think at the end of the day most Republicans want someone who can beat Barack Obama," Barbour said. 

Barbour joined Republican pundits and political analysts in pointing out the potential benefits of a tight race to the nomination. 

"Sometimes the candidate who ultimately wins grows, benefits, becomes a stronger candidate and because of that wins the election in November," he added. 

Throughout the primary season Republicans have been quick to note that although the hotly contested 2008 primary race between then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was highly combative, Obama went on to win the general election anyway.

Voters head to the polls next Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona, two crucial contests for the Republican hopefuls. 

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has surged to the top of the polls, nationally and in key states, after a series of upset victories in GOP nominating contests earlier this month. 

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.), long the presumptive front-runner, has battled back in his home state of Michigan, a contest he was expected to carry easily.

Barbour warned that if Romney loses Michigan "it's not good news." 

"Obviously if a candidate loses his home state in a presidential primary, then that makes it harder for them," he said. 

However, the former governor said a loss in Michigan wouldn't necessarily be "fatal" for either Romney or Santorum. 

Romney and Santorum are in a statistical tie in Michigan ahead of the state's primary next Tuesday, according to an NBC News-Marist poll released Wednesday. Romney is in the lead with 37 percent followed by Santorum at 35 percent with a 1.8 percent margin of error in the poll. 

Barbour told ABC News that while unlikely, there is a chance a new candidate will emerge in the race if primary voters don't give one of the current candidates a clear majority. 

"There is a possibility, though very remote in my opinion, that we could go to Tampa and not know who our nominee will be," he said of the chances for a brokered GOP convention.

Barbour, who served under former President Reagan as Republican National Committee chairman and co-founded the lobbying firm, BGR Group, ended his second term as governor in January. 

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