Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour went on the defensive Sunday, justifying his past lobbying career and defending his recent controversial remarks on racial politics and last-place finish in a poll of potential Republican presidential candidates -- all while hinting that he may seriously run for President in 2012.
The Republican governor tackled criticism of his extensive background as a Washington lobbyist on "Fox News Sunday," arguing that lobbying is part of the president’s job.
"I'm a lobbyist and had a career lobbying. The guy who gets elected or the lady who gets elected president of the United States will immediately be lobbying," Barbour told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace. "That's what Presidents do for a living. Presidents try to sell what's good for America to others in the world, as well as to Americans."
The word "lobbyist" has become somewhat of a dirty word in recent presidential campaigns, as politicians from all sides have worked to distance themselves from the industry, claiming lobbyists cater to special interests and deal too exclusively within the beltway.
"Ronald Reagan was the ultimate lobbyist the ‘great communicator,’" Barbour said.
The late President Reagan was frequently mentioned by the many politicians, pundits and speakers who graced the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last week in Washington, D.C. -- where Barbour came in dead last in a straw poll of potential 2012 Republican presidential nominees. Barbour garnered one percent of the vote, while Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, claimed the top spot with 30 percent in a list that included potential candidates Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.
Barbour shrugged off the defeat.
"The straw poll was taken before I spoke" at the conference, he said. "They shut down the straw poll on Friday. I spoke Saturday."
Barbour added that several people in the audience approached him after his speech on Saturday morning to say they tried to vote for him, but voting was closed.
Barbour also defended comments he made to the Weekly Standard in December 2010, where he described growing up in his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi, in the height of the civil rights era.
"I just don't remember it being that bad," Barbour told the magazine, attributing the lack of violence to a white group called "Citizens Council," which promoted segregationist policies across the South during that time. He also described attending a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., where he paid more attention to the pretty girls around him than to the civil rights leader.
Barbour told "Fox News Sunday" that he didn't regret giving the interview.
"It's just the truth," he said. "I was asked about my childhood, and my childhood was a very great childhood."
Barbour added that he was interested in seeing King speak, but that "it wasn't any big major event."
"Look at my record," he said, when asked if he was concerned that people would think he was insensitive. "Look at the fact that after I was elected we have had more minority business contracts. We have more African-American elected officials in Mississippi than anywhere in the country. I've had outstanding African-American members of my administration. You know, I'm proud of that record."
Barbour declined to say definitively whether he would mount a run for the presidency but said he was strongly considering it.
"I'm not going to make a decision until April, but I am very serious about it," he said. "I'm not somebody who has wanted to run for president all of my life. But right now, I think the country is in such straits, we've got to have a huge change."