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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.

Perhaps only one other Republican occupies as high a throne internally as Haley Barbour: Karl Rove. Recall that Rove was one of the founders of American Crossroads. Crossroads GPS formed in May 2010 after the landmark Citizens United case that transformed political fundraising and spending. This decision opened the floodgates, allowing unlimited corporate, union, and individual spending in elections.

So now, united under one roof are Karl Rove and Haley Barbour, the two undisputed kings of Republican fundraising and campaign strategy, with a 2012 fundraising goal of $240 million.

With this level of funding, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS will act and react to counter President Barack Obama, perhaps impacting the outcome of the presidential election even more than the official campaign of the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

This impact has already begun. In October 2011, when President Obama campaigned in Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina, American Crossroads “welcomed” his visits with this television ad.

Rove, Barbour, and other top leaders of American Crossroads — including former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, former RNC Co-Chair Jo Ann Davidson, and political director Carl Forti (Romney’s 2008 deputy campaign manager/political director) — will be able to run more television ads, target specific candidates, and exert more influence earlier and more often than the RNC.

The Republican Party right now looks to be a weakened structure, fractured between the tea party wing and the establishment. Yet American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS are lean, tested, and ready to flex their muscles in 2012, as they did so well in 2010: when the organizations were only seven months old, they raised a combined $71 million.

Today, Haley Barbour and Karl Rove are not in control of the Republican Party, which still has the unique ability to nominate candidates. But who needs a party? They now have the ability to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in support of or against a candidate, to buy media time, and to interject their message wherever they like.

If the “Republican establishment” — accused of shoving Mitt Romney down the throats of the tea party/conservative base — had a face, it would be Barbour. Yet at this point, Haley Barbour has not endorsed Mitt Romney. In fact, Barbour recently said on Face the Nation that Romney is “not a true frontrunner.”

No one knows exactly how this power-player politics will play itself out. But by joining American Crossroads, Haley Barbour brings the hefty wallets of the “establishment” along with him and away from the GOP.

This is a major trend worth noting and watching in 2012.