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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour thinks Iowans want a presidential candidate who's not afraid to tell them the truth.
One of the hard truths Barbour is willing to tell Iowans, he said during a visit to the Iowa Statehouse Feb. 21, is that farm subsidies have to be part of the discussion when it comes to reining in federal spending.
That's part of the “plain-spoken, common sense” he believes Iowans want to hear, Barbour said after meeting the Gov. Terry Branstad Monday.
“Nothing can be off limits” when discussing how to bring federal spending under control, Barbour said. “Defense can't be off limits. Farm subsidies can't be off limits.”
Putting farm subsidies on the chopping block is not the political death wish that Barbour's suggestion would have been in prior elections, said Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, a farmer, who met with Barbour.
“For farmers, the Farm Bill is not as important as in the past,” he said. “A lot of farmers are more concerned with (Environmental Protection Administration) regulations and the energy bill because that has a bigger impact on prices and markets.”
It won't have the same impact as Sen., John McCain's opposition to ethanol subsidies, a position that dogged the Arizonan in the 2000 caucus campaign and again in 2008 – even after he softened his opposition.
“I think farmers want to be independent,” said Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, chairwoman of the House Ag Committee. Trade, and finding more trading partners, is probably more important than subsidies, she said. When prices are good for farmers, Sweeney said, they don't need subsidies.
Also, Deyoe added, farmers don't want to be held out as untouchable if all other federal spending is being cut.
Barbour, who doesn't plan to make a decision non running for the GOP nomination in 2012 until April, was quick to emphasize his farmer bona fides.
“Iowans will see that I'm a farm-state boy who grew up and lives to this day on land my family has farmed for 140 years,” he said. “While our crop mix might be a little different than Iowa, increasingly it is corn and soybeans and wheat and a whole lot less cotton than when my grand-daddy was farming the place.
“I look to see Iowans on a one-to-one, family basis and they'll be able to judge me on that,” he said.
Having served as political director of the Reagan White House, Barbour, 63, said he's fully aware what he will be getting into should he join the race.
“This is a 10-year commitment,” he said.”If you run and get elected … you've got to be prepared for a 10-year commitment.
“That's the majority of the rest of my productive life and I have to decide am I willing to take on the most consuming job in the world. I have to see whether I have the fire in the belly and the willingness, to the exclusion of all other things, to take that on. It's a serious decision. This is a life commitment.”
Being governor, he said, is the job closest to being president.
“Not the same by any stretch of the imagination,” Barbour said. “There is no job like president.”
However, as governor, he's had to deal with reducing entitlements spending – “something that has to be done nationally.”
“I've also had to deal with real crisis. Katrina,” Barbour said. About 100,000 houses in Mississippi were uninhabitable.
“We dealt with it very well. The country saw what we did,” he said. “That's the experience that you don't get many other jobs besides being governor.”
Barbour believes President Obama will be vulnerable in 2012 because of his policies.
“They're bad. They're unpopular. For good reason,” he said.
The 2010 election was the “most massive repudiation of a president's policies in American political history,” Barbour said. Independents went for Republicans by a 20 percentage point margin – nearly the same margin they gave Obama two years earlier.
“Why? Not because they don't like President Obama,” Barbour said. “It's because his policies are bad policies, they're are hurting the American economy and inhibiting job creation. And the American people get it.”
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen met with Barbour and said he offered him his standards advice to potential candidates: come to Iowa and get to know Iowans.
“There's no one person or even small group of people who control the outcome of the caucus process or the straw poll,” Paulsen said.
“I told him that as people get to know him, I think Iowans will warm up to him,” Paulsen said, explaining Barbour's “down-to-earth, regular guy” demeanor will appeal to Iowans.