Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday that he won't seek the Republican nomination for president next year after all, a sign that a crowded but tentative field of GOP rivals is starting to firm up.
Barbour, 63, a former lobbyist known for his keen political instincts, fundraising prowess and drawl, and who has led the national Republican Party and Republican Governor's Association, said in a statement that he could not promise supporters he'd have the "absolute fire in the belly" needed to run and serve. "I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required."
His announcement followed visits to key primary states including South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa, and early polling that showed his support in the low single digits.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have announced exploratory committees. Several others who are considering runs, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to China and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain. Meanwhile, Texas Rep. Ron Paul is planning to announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee.
It's not clear that Barbour's decision will have a major effect on the race. A McClatchy-Marist poll last week found Barbour with 1 percent of support.
Barbour has garnered attention for his advocacy for his state post-Hurricane Katrina and again following the BP oil spill. He's also been criticized of painting a revisionist picture of GOP and Southern attitudes during the Civil Rights Era.
Barbour's wife said in an interview earlier this month that she'd support her husband if he went forward but that she found the idea of him running for president horrifying and overwhelming.