Haley Barbour at American Crossroads: Seismic GOP Fundraising Shift?

On November 7, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour appeared in this video for the 1600 Fund -- an American Crossroads initiative with the publicly stated goal of raising $240 million to help take the White House and the Senate and to keep the House in the 2012 election. Per Politico:

You might infer that this is what Barbour’s presidential campaign would have looked/sounded like.

That analysis is likely true: in the video, Governor Barbour succinctly hit all the Republican talking points as to why Obama’s presidency has failed the nation.

But does Barbour as pitchman for American Crossroads (often referred to as a “Super PAC”) represent something further, even possibly a historical moment for the Republican Party? Yes, says a Republican political strategist (name withheld by request) with clients who are well-known elected officials. Governor Barbour aligning himself as a fundraiser with American Crossroads, and NOT the Republican Party, signals a seismic shift that will drain money and power away from the GOP, ultimately resulting in a weaker national party. Haley Barbour’s internal influence, past and present, within the Republican Party cannot be overstated. And his decision to be the first sitting elected official to join American Crossroads is a “wow” moment.

Currently, Haley Barbour is serving his second term as governor of Mississippi. He took office in 2004, and will be term-limited out in January 2012. But having served with distinction as governor of Mississippi -- including following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the state in 2005 -- is only a small part of the political lens through which one should view Haley Barbour’s career and the stature he holds within the Republican Party. In 2010, Politico dubbed him “the most powerful Republican in politics.” Newsweek described Barbour as “an insider's insider who has been involved in every presidential election since 1968.”

Barbour has held two official titles within the Republican Party. He was chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) from January 1993 until January 1997, and he was chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) from June 2009 until just after the 2010 midterm elections.  Governor Barbour in fact “rescued” the RGA when he assumed the reins from South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford -- Sanford had been forced to resign due to an embarrassing adulterous affair.

In 2009 and 2010, while RNC Chairman Michael Steele was struggling with fundraising and public relations issues, Governor Haley Barbour raised a record $115 million during the 2010 election cycle. He diverted donors away from the RNC.

Barbour’s widely acclaimed success as RGA chairman -- he helped elect a total of 11 governors out of 12 races -- led to greater speculation about a presidential run in 2012. Media speculation had begun in January of 2010 when Newsweek practically endorsed him as a presidential hopeful, calling Governor Barbour the “Anti-Obama” and “Mr. Fix It.”

Earlier this year Barbour did indeed make a run for the White House, but he did not get far past the starting gate. The media hammered him on his Southern roots, and he was hurt by the current anti-Washington environment -- Barbour could not escape his past as “one of Washington’s all-time mega-lobbyists.” The latter is a reference to the lobbying firm he founded back in 1991 -- Barbour, Griffith and Rogers was referred to by Fortune magazine as “the most powerful lobbying firm in America after the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush.”

Barbour’s choice of American Crossroads to be his perch for the 2012 election cycle sends an electrical charge to any Republican holding a sizable wallet: American Crossroads is where the real action is going to be, not the RNC.