Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour issued a subtle rebuke Wednesday to conservative and Republican leaders who have focused on religious and social values issues this year, saying they were taking the GOP off message in an election year when voters care overwhelmingly about economic issues.
“Any issue that takes people’s eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your eye off the ball,” Barbour said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Barbour, who been ascendant on the national scene and is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2012 due to his strong leadership of the Republican Governors Association, said that his advice for national conservative leaders was directed primarily at those who are running for public office in this cycle, skirting around questions regarding the influence of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Fox News personality Glenn Beck on the Republican party.
Palin was one of the chief conservative voices to elevate the debate over a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City to the national level before President Obama weighed in, and she appeared at Beck’s rally on the National Mall less than two weeks ago where Beck eschewed political talk and focused on urging Americans to turn to God and focus on their personal morals.
“They’re not running for anything,” Barbour said of Palin and Beck. “I don’t know what all they’re talking about. They draw huge crowds, and enthusiastic crowds, but what somebody is talking about that is not directly related to campaigns, then I’m sort of not paying a lot of attention.”
“But if somebody goes to campaign for governor candidate x, I would hope that somebody would stay focused on the issues that matter to the campaign: jobs, the economy, taxes, spending, debt, deficits,” Barbour continued. “You run down rabbit trails, you’re wasting— you’re using up valuable resources that could be used to talk to people about what they care about.”
When asked about comments by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, that said the GOP should call a “truce on the so-called social issues” to focus on fiscal matters, Barbour said he supported the sentiment.
A candidate’s stance on abortion “ain’t going to change anybody’s vote this year,” he said.
Barbour drew notice from reporters in the room when asked about polls that have showed large numbers of Americans who say they believe President Obama is a Muslim, despite the fact that Obama has always said he converted to Christianity as a young adult and remains a professing Christian.
“This is a president that we know less about than any other president in history. But I have no idea why— I accept just totally at face value that he’s a Christian. He’s said so throughout the time he’s been in public life. That’s good enough for me,” Barbour said.
Asked after the breakfast whether he was casting doubt on Obama’s citizenship, Barbour said his remarks were “just an observation.”
Asked whether he believes Obama was born in the U.S., Barbour said: “As far as I know.” After a brief pause, he added, “I don’t have any question.”
Barbour also put a price tag for the first time on how much the fiscal woes of Michael Steele’s Republican National Committee have cost the RGA.
“We think the impact on the Governor’s Association and governors races is probably about $10 million,” Barbour said. “We have to come up with about $10 million that normally would have been pushed into the governors races from various directions, largely through state parties, not directly to governors campaigns.”
Barbour also said Steele’s overspending has hurt the GOP’s ability to fund Get out the Vote efforts in the last few days before the Nov. 2 midterms.
“It appears the RNC won’t be able to put as much into state party turnout operations as they have in the past,” he said. ” And yes we have taken that into consideration to ensure we have a good ground game in the states that matter, which is everywhere.”
An RNC spokesman pointed to a memo from Steele last week that said the GOP arm will have over 300 paid staffers on the ground to help in local elections, including at least one in each of 118 targeted House races.