Haley Barbour Preparing to Surprise GOP

I have this nagging sense that we take Haley Barbour lightly at our peril. Here he is speaking at Congressman Steve King's Conservative Principles Conference on Saturday - tell me this guy doesn't disarm with Southern Charm.

As he ponders a run for president, Haley Barbour would not seem a natural fit for the anti-establishment political mood now brewing: the governor of Mississippi is a longtime inside-the-Beltway operator who lobbied for the tobacco industry and other powerful interests.

With the media focused on Mitt, Sarah, Huckabee and Pawlenty, Haley has the ability to raise money, pull in favors, and catch voters by surprise.

But Barbour wields a key asset that makes him a potential heavyweight in a crowded GOP field: fundraising prowess born of decades as a Republican power player. Presiding over his party's national committee and then its governor's association, Barbour raked in donations with a ferocity that delighted Republicans, boggled Democrats and alarmed campaign finance watchdogs.

Barbour’s admirers include many potential 2012 rivals, some of whom go back decades with him. “Probably one of the greatest political minds that is alive today,” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is mulling over a second bid for the nomination.

When it comes to breaking through, Haley's folksy charm combined with his strategy of owning up to his lobbying past - with pride - just might make him seem like the straight talker voters long for in this age of poll driven posers.