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DES MOINES - During a trip to Iowa, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour downplayed the idea he might run for president in 2012, but left the door open to a possible run.
Barbour was in the state Thursday as a guest on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" before a scheduled speech to GOP activists.
His recent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold key presidential contests, have fueled speculation that he's planning a White House run.
But Barbour sidestepped questions from reporters about his possible presidential ambitions and instead focused on the importance of 2009 and 2010 elections for the GOP.
"If after that, it seems like a reasonable thing, I will consider it," Barbour told reporters after the taping of the show. "I have no plan to run for president, I have no intention to run for president. But I've been around long enough to say 'never say never,'" Barbour said, adding that he would be "very surprised" if he were a presidential candidate.
Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, also reflected on what the party must do to rebuild after its recent losses.
"When you're in the White House for a long time, you become a top-down party. I don't care if you're Democrats or Republicans, you've got to rebuild from the bottom up, give people a chance to participate," Barbour said.
He said the party needs to rebuild its small-donor fundraising base and get in on the cutting edge of communications technology, noting the Obama campaign's success with viral communications and the Internet.
Barbour also promoted the idea of an inclusive Republican Party, pointing to the philosophy of the party in the 1970s in his home state.
"Our motto was we were the party of the open door, that you didn't have to pass some litmus test to be a Republican in Mississippi," Barbour said.
This week, Barbour assumed the role of chairman of the Republican Governors Association, replacing South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who stepped down from the post after admitting an extramarital affair.
Barbour said he doesn't think Sanford should resign, calling the situation a "personal tragedy" for Sanford's family, and said the incident wouldn't have an effect on the Republican Party.
"I don't think it will change how one person's gonna vote in November of 2009 or November of 2010," Barbour said.