Strategists speculate on where Barbour supporters will land

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Most of the speculation of who benefits from Haley Barbour’s announcement that he won’t run for president has centered on Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Barbour’s close friend, who is set to decide in the next few weeks whether or not he will enter the race. Within minutes of Barbour’s announcement, Twitter buzzed with Daniels’ name. But strategists say Daniels is not the only one who will benefit from Barbour’s decision.

“If it lures anyone into the race, I would think it would be more Huckabee than Daniels,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

“The one regional southern candidate that was in got out, so potentially the other one will get in,” he explained.

But mostly, he said, it’s too early to tell, a sentiment echoed by other strategists.

“I don’t know who benefits,” said a source familiar with the Barbour campaign. “I think it’s a toss up.”

“Probably from a long term standpoint, Romney,” the source continued, “because the greatest, the most serious challenge to Romney is someone who can sort of establish themselves as the anti-Romney, and that’s what Governor Barbour would have done.”

It puts an interesting wrinkle in the race, said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who worked for Mitt Romney in 2008. “I think this is the first time that I can remember that we really haven’t had a southerner now running for president in the Republican pantheon,” he said, pointing out the field of candidates, with the exception of Romney, were clustered in the Midwest.

He is skeptical that Huckabee would enter the race and leave his lucrative TV gig.

Political consultant Phillip Stutts said the focus on Daniels was due to a combination of media hype and his tough budget cutting credentials. “The media is focusing on the speculation of Daniels, rather than Daniels,” he said.

This has been compounded with the fact that “the grassroots that is actually paying attention right now gets excited about Daniels because he’s a budget hawk,” he continued. A less-often mentioned governor, on the other hand, could be the quiet beneficiary of Barbour’s drop out: Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota.

Pawlenty is still somewhat unknown, but Stutts said that this was part of the strategy. “Put your head down, raise your money, and don’t be the flavor of the month this far out…if you have the money and you’re going to be there end.”

Pawlenty served as vice president of the Republican Governor’s Association when Barbour was President, and has former RGA executive director Nick Ayers on his campaign. Pawlenty’s campaign issued a statement Monday after Barbour announced he would not run lauding the Mississippi governor and his accomplishments.

“I think different camps will have different reactions,” said the source familiar with Barbour’s almost campaign. “I’ve heard that the Pawlenty people say that all of the Barbour donors are going to them.”

But the source is skeptical that Barbour’s decision not to run will give the former Minnesota governor much help.

“I know that Nick feels confident in his impact, but I’m not sure that Nick has much of an impact on people that were supporting Haley, and that because Nick’s with Pawlenty, they’ll go with Pawlenty. I just don’t see that as a factor.”

Castellanos had a similar take.

“I’m sure some of those relationships will benefit Pawlenty,” he said. “But if you’re a Haley Barbour RGA contributor, that relationship is probably more important to you than your relationship with staff…it is Haley Barbour’s lifelong network that we’re talking about – not Nick Ayers’, not the political establishment.”

Nonetheless, he suggested that “having exposure to the networks and making the contacts” could certainly help Pawlenty.