WASHINGTON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour stood at a U.S. Capitol news conference Wednesday alongside House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell as part of the midterm elections triumvirate victory team.
Barbour has positioned himself for a run of his own, for the nation's highest office.
Echoing his theme for the entire election cycle, Barbour said, "While governors' races are about local issues, in this case every governor's race this election was a referendum on Obama's policies and the Pelosi-Reid agenda."
The strategy to nationalize the 37 governors' races relentlessly by identifying big spending with President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., paid off big for Barbour, who led the Republican Governors Association effort to win 23 of the 37 races, giving Republicans an edge of at least 29 governorships, with four races still undecided, in Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon.
Barbour's omnipresence around the country and his fundraising prowess — the governors association raised and spent $102 million on the campaigns — has put the former Republican National Committee chairman on the front lines of the 2012 GOP presidential contest.
"Haley's the most interesting phenomenon of this election cycle, if you ask me," said Marty Wiseman, a political science professor at Mississippi State University. "Karl Rove notwithstanding, he's the supreme political strategist. He could declare for president and raise $75 million immediately."
Barbour himself was more or less circumspect, telling television interviewers that "I'm gonna sit down ... and see if there's anything to think about."
"But I don't feel any time pressure over the next few weeks or months," Barbour said. We'll see if Marsha (his wife) thinks it's a good idea and whether others think it's a good idea."
University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato said, "Barbour is one of the truly big political winners from the 2010 elections. Arguably the most significant wins were at the state level, maybe a net pickup of seven, including a critical sweep of states from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, plus over 600 state legislative seats and 19 state legislative chambers, many of them because of gubernatorial coattails."
Barbour concentrated on swing states and states where redistricting — the every-10-year reallocation of congressional districts — would be vital for Republican interests.
"Republican control of the majority of 2012 swing states is a major roadblock to the president's re-election and a repudiation of his policies," Barbour said. "These states are the bellwethers of the nation, and they've sent a firm message to Washington that America wants smaller government and more freedom."
Among the victories in swing states: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Redistricting may be one of the biggest factors in the next election cycle, as governors influence the process and presumably help elect more Republican members of the House of Representatives, who'd be grateful to Barbour.
"He understands that creating favorable congressional districts is one of the most crucial functions" for a presidential candidate, Wiseman said. "You are literally defining the shape of the playing field when you do that."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington